Nunez returns for Liverpool as hapless Aston Villa treat Alexander-Arnold like peak Yaya Toure

Matt Stead
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp embraces Trent Alexander-Arnold
Trent Alexander-Arnold hugged by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp

Aston Villa know how to deal with Trent Alexander-Arnold. They have done it before and other blueprints are available. Yet he pulled those Liverpool strings.


The equivalent of an exceptional doctor diagnosing an issue and proactively treating it, Unai Emery spoke with authority about Liverpool in May and what Aston Villa would have to overcome to secure a positive result at Anfield.

“I think they are playing better,” he said. “I don’t know whether that is because they are playing with Arnold inside trying to get a different shape with the ball. But I really think Arnold is playing his best football and doing very good passes, short and long, right and left and being clinical with his passes. They have very good players to run behind and to get the ball and do one to one. They are very confident and they are feeling very good with this shape and tactical change they did.”

Spot on. The perennial Alexander-Arnold discourse makes it impossible not to realise his indelible influence on Liverpool but Emery used that knowledge to construct and execute a game plan which so nearly delivered a wonderful victory over the Reds four months ago.

Imagine, after all, acknowledging every aspect of the above but doing absolutely nothing about it. Picture a side knowing all that before rocking up and playing a high line without applying a modicum of pressure on the ball. Envision a team not only seeing precisely how such a threat could be countered and exploited through the example of Newcastle and Anthony Gordon, but having their own clear and recent blueprint as to how the danger could be thwarted.

That would be really weird.

Much like their opening-day thrashing at Newcastle had the caveat of a game-changing, plan-ruining early injury to Tyrone Mings, Villa can point to the loss of Diego Carlos after 20 minutes against Liverpool.

But a) they were already a goal down in both games and b) their propensity to capitulate in such circumstances is developing into a worrying trend.

An enforced substitution offered the visitors an opportunity to reset and reboot, to amend their mistakes and start again. Liverpool had already scored one goal through the impressive Dominik Szoboszlai and were frequently finding space in behind when passing from deep. Leon Bailey’s introduction brought a necessary change in shape, offering at least the theoretical idea of more support for Matty Cash against Luis Diaz.

Within three minutes, Liverpool made it 2-0 in the most predictable of ways.

Alexander-Arnold and Alexis Mac Allister exchanged passes on the halfway line before the former, with Ollie Watkins and Moussa Diaby standing off about five yards away, both clearly foiled by an invisible forcefield, released Mo Salah in behind. Darwin Nunez struck the Egyptian’s centre against the post and the ball rebounded in off Cash.

In the first half alone, Alexander-Arnold directly created five chances; the true amount he contributed to throughout the game was probably two or three times that, such did every move flow through him without any actual attempt from Villa to stem it.

There were chances for the visitors – Alisson saved well from Cash, John McGinn ought to have scored and Watkins and Diaby got in each other’s way from a Lucas Digne cross – but only the timely return of The True Darwin Nunez spared them a proper hammering.

The Uruguayan hit the woodwork twice and set up Salah’s goal as he thrived in the space Villa insisted upon vacating. His missed header from a matter of yards when faced with a largely open net from Salah’s cross early in the second half was life-affirmingly nonsensical after his Newcastle ridiculousness.

And try as they might, Saudi Arabia are not getting Salah for at least another year.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah celebrates

But this game was the story of Alexander-Arnold and a problem Aston Villa bizarrely refused to ever address. The Liverpool player’s final action before being substituted as an injury precaution in the 70th minute was to saunter through from his own half to shoot as supposed opponents backed off with no pretence of a challenge.

None of those defenders are Roger Johnson – although Pau Torres tried his damnedest to produce such levels – and Alexander-Arnold, for all his talents, is not peak Yaya Toure. Yet the impressions were passable.

In successive weeks, teams have shown us precisely how and how not to deal with what Alexander-Arnold brings and where his deficiencies are. That Liverpool won both games regardless suggests their mojo has returned. Villa would just settle for some consistency.