Aston Villa 1-3 Liverpool: Salah stars as Reds resume with win

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Liverpool made a winning return to Premier League action as Mohamed Salah starred and Stefan Bajcetic scored his first senior goal in an entertaining 3-1 Boxing Day win at Aston Villa.

Salah handed Liverpool a strong start when he converted Andrew Robertson’s delivery from close range – making the left-back the defender with the most Premier League assists in history.

The Egypt star then teed up Virgil van Dijk to steer home a deflected second, though Liverpool came under pressure after Ollie Watkins halved the arrears with just over half an hour remaining.

However, Jurgen Klopp’s side made the points safe late on as substitute Bajcetic rounded Robin Olsen to score his first Premier League goal, moving Liverpool within five points of the top four.

Liverpool needed just five minutes to take the lead, with Salah on hand to tap home Robertson’s cross after the left-back latched onto a sublime outside-of-the-foot pass from Trent Alexander Arnold.

A lively first half saw both goalkeepers forced into action, though Watkins should have done better when heading at Alisson before Robin Olsen was tested by Darwin Nunez’s volley.

After a series of narrow escapes, Villa failed to prevent Liverpool from striking again 37 minutes in, as Van Dijk’s left-footed volley struck Ezri Konsa before finding the bottom-right corner.

The offside flag denied Watkins a goal soon after the restart, but there was to be no reprieve for Liverpool when he nodded Douglas Luiz’s cross home after 59 minutes.

Liverpool then went close to a third through Nunez, but 18-year-old Bajcetic stepped off the bench to calm any nerves, latching onto a loose ball to round Olsen and lash a left-footed finish home.

What does it mean? Liverpool back in the groove

Liverpool entered the World Cup break seven points adrift of a top-four place after an inconsistent spell, leading Klopp to acknowledge his side will be playing catch-up from here on in.

However, the Reds have now won three consecutive Premier League games for the first time this season, and with over half the campaign remaining, they remain a strong contender to reach the table’s upper echelons.

Salah hits the ground running

Egypt’s failure to qualify for the World Cup ensured Salah enjoyed a seven-week break ahead of Liverpool’s return to action in the EFL Cup last week, and the winger looked every bit refreshed as he netted his 55th away Premier League goal for the club – a joint-high tally alongside Michael Owen.

Salah’s assist then made him just the second Reds player to reach a half century for both goals and assists in the Premier League (125 goals and 50 assists), alongside Steven Gerrard (120 goals, 92 assists).

Van Dijk exploits Villa frailties

Though Villa looked menacing on the break throughout, they struggled to cope with Liverpool’s attacking threat – including from set pieces.

Van Dijk lost marker Emiliano Buendia with ease to double Liverpool’s lead. Since the start of the 2018-19 season, the Dutchman’s tally of 15 Premier League goals is more than any other defender.

What’s next?

Liverpool host Leicester City in their final Premier League game of the year on Friday, while Villa’s 2022 is over – they are next in action at Tottenham on New Year’s Day.

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