Plenty of chaos, no concentration but Aston Villa must still wait for the Champions League

Aston Villa's Jhon Duran (centre) celebrates scoring the side’s second goal  (Action Images via Reuters)
Aston Villa's Jhon Duran (centre) celebrates scoring the side’s second goal (Action Images via Reuters)

Aston Villa do not quite have the Hollywood ending to their season but the watching Tom Hanks got an illustration that football can script stranger drama than his line of work. A three-minute double from Jhon Duran – perhaps a case of Duran Duran scoring – denied Jurgen Klopp a valedictory victory on the road in his final away game as Liverpool manager.

The substitute’s brace – and his distinctly strange, rather unwitting second goal, in particular – nudged Villa closer to Champions League football, even if their destiny remains unclear.

If they are rubbing shoulders with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich next season, it may be because of Duran’s thigh. The Colombian inadvertently diverted Moussa Diaby’s 88th-minute shot past a wrongfooted Alisson, completing a comeback for a team who went 1-0 then 3-1 down.

After such a fraught, frantic night, Villa may prefer it if their fate is sealed by Manchester City on Tuesday, should they take at least a point against Tottenham. Otherwise, they have six more days to wait, and a game at Crystal Palace to negotiate, for a first taste of the European Cup in 42 seasons.

And perhaps a City win on Tuesday could render their fightback and Duran’s double irrelevant. It was, though, a show of spirit from a side who had been subdued and looked exhausted; as though the Villa supporter Hanks’ pre-match words on the pitch, designed to galvanise, had instead sedated all bar Ollie Watkins, Leon Bailey and Diaby. On a confusing, chaotic affair, laced with disallowed goals, VAR checks and errors, featuring too little order and structure for the pragmatists, Villa did to Klopp’s Liverpool what they themselves have done to many another team. They came back from the dead.

After that rarity of a poor touch by Alexis Mac Allister, Duran drilled a shot from 20 yards. After Diaby marauded forward again, his through ball hit the forward’s thigh and flew in. And so Villa may join Liverpool in next season’s Champions League: Klopp, who has seven top-four finishes, knows what it is like to both win it and qualify for it.

Emery is the serial Europa League winner looking to plot a different path into the European elite. A night of choruses of Klopp’s name finished with Villa Park raucous again.

Yet it had been quietened by a crowd favourite. Emi Martinez’s night had a chastening start, one many an opponent irritated by his antics may have enjoyed. He set the tone with a hideous mistake for an own goal. And if Villa equalised, that start may have stripped the occasion of the atmosphere and Villa of their optimism.

Martinez scored an own goal after just one minute (Action Images via Reuters)
Martinez scored an own goal after just one minute (Action Images via Reuters)

In a curiosity of a beginning, Villa were shambolic and off the pace and, yet, level again within 12 minutes. But Villa’s PA announcer had barely finished describing Martinez as “the world’s No 1” when proceedings suggested other opinions may be available with an awful error. Elliott’s cross deflected off the chest of Pau Torres, but Martinez still caught it, only to spill it and see the ball trickle over the line.

For Villa only the front three seemed imbued with vigour and yet, with Liverpool having abandoned the concept of clean sheets late in Klopp’s reign, with the midfield affording the defence precious little protection, they posed a threat. Parity was restored when Watkins breezed past Jarell Quansah too easily and cut the ball back for the fit-again Youri Tielemans to drive in the equaliser.

At fault then, Quansah redeemed himself with a couple of fine blocks and added his first Premier League goal, heading in a free kick from the excellent Harvey Elliott, probably the best player on the pitch.

Jarell Quansah scored his first league goal (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
Jarell Quansah scored his first league goal (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Before then, Liverpool had restored their lead. Villa scarcely got close to anyone for Liverpool’s second goal, created by a combination of Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz, allowing the overlapping Joe Gomez to cross for Cody Gakpo to tap in. It summed up how open Villa were. Lucas Digne had a particular shocker and failed to track Quansah for his goal.

Another defender produced a very different type of error, Diego Carlos contriving to miss an open goal when supplied by Bailey. Watkins had a strike disallowed for offside, though it was a sign of Villa’s threat.

Liverpool, meanwhile, squandered the chances to seal victory. Perhaps Klopp, in trying to give many of his players an outing, cost them momentum and cohesion with a quadruple change, with Elliott and the influential Diaz among the departures.

And Villa rallied. Faced with the prospect of a second successive defeat, when it seemed they were limping towards the line, looking for others to propel them into the Champions League, they sought to instead clinch qualification in style.

But for an injury-time save from Alisson to deny Diaby, they would have had a winner and a guaranteed place in the top four. It could be a nervous week for them now, but Duran’s thigh may have set up a date with Barcelona or Borussia Dortmund.