Mohamed Salah had a goal and an assist as Liverpool reopened its Premier League campaign with a decisive 3-1 win over Aston Villa at Villa Park on Boxing Day.
Ollie Watkins gave Villa hope of a comeback following a deserved run of control but Liverpool 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic scored his first Premier League goal to restore the two-goal cushion and send the Reds to a seventh win this season (7-4-4).
WATCH ASTON VILLA vs LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY STREAM
Liverpool (25 points) moves to within a point of fifth-place Manchester United and five behind Tottenham. United’s played one more match than Liverpool, who’s played one fewer match than Spurs.
It’s an understandable bump in the road for Aston Villa as Unai Emery bids to steady and then strengthen a once-promising but leaky ship than ultimately cost Steven Gerrard his job. Villa’s 12th with 18 points.
[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]
What we learned from Aston Villa vs Liverpool
This is actually pretty straight-forward: Liverpool remains a handful going forward with serious warts at the back.
Andy Robertson set the Premier League record for assists from a defender when he combined with Trent Alexander-Arnold to produce a scintillating Mohamed Salah opener, and Salah turned provider with a smart pass to Virgil van Dijk at the back post of a jumbled set piece.
But Emery’s charges changed the game at the break, and Liverpool was under serious pressure and folded for two Ollie Watkins concessions. Fortunately for the Reds, the first of the bunch was pulled back for a close offside.
The score line says a two-goal win but Liverpool held just 53 percent possession and a 16-12 advantage in shots.
But the Reds were the more dangerous in addition to the more clinical side, and Bajcetic’s first Premier League goal came moments after he joined the fray for Jordan Henderson in the 79th minute.
Jurgen Klopp changed two-thirds of his midfielders and forwards between the 67th and 79th minutes, and the game changed in Liverpool’s favor.
Douglas Luiz was a real problem for the Reds for much of the second half, and Bajcetic’s goal would’ve been sweet relief for Klopp.
Stars of the Show
Liverpool will host Leicester City at 3pm ET Friday before Villa visits Tottenham at 9am ET Sunday, New Year’s Day.
Jurgen Klopp reaction
The Liverpool boss was full of praise for young Bajcetic, who got a goal in his first Premier League appearance since September.
The ex-Celta Vigo academy kid arrived at Anfield in 2020 and is just scratching the surface of his potential.
“He’s cheeky as hell and is not worried about anything. He just plays football and he can do that exceptionally well. He had a football-playing father (Srdan Bajcetic) so the genes are there but also the attitude, awareness and match intelligence. It’s a big pleasure to work with these boys.”
Mohamed Salah goal video: Liverpool restarts season with style
Virgil van Dijk goal video: Salah, VVD clean up set piece mess
Ollie Watkins goal video
Stefan Bajcetic goal video
How to watch Aston Villa vs Liverpool live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 12:30 pm ET, Monday, Dec. 26 (Boxing Day)
TV channel: USA Network
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com
Key storylines & star players
Despite the arrival of Darwin Nunez in the summer, Roberto Firmino is enjoying a renaissance season as he leads Liverpool with seven goals, followed closely by Mohamed Salah (6) and Nunez (5). Firmino, who scored just five PL goals in 20 appearances last season, only became a regular starter once again after Sadio Mane left for Bayern Munich in the summer, and Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota suffered injuries that limited them to just 12 appearances between them.
Emery’s appointment marked a definitive turning point not only in terms of results, but the performance and tactical competence of a side that had won just three of 13 games and conceded 20 goals prior to his arrival. There was a 3-0 defeat to Fulham (Gerrard’s last game) and a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Newcastle (final game before Emery took over) in a span of nine miserable days in late October, but hope has already been restored by a man who has won four Europa League trophies in the last 10 years — a massive coup for the club.
Aston Villa team news, injuries, lineup options
OUT: Diego Carlos (achilles), Emiliano Martinez (late return from World Cup)
This is your Aston Villa team to face Liverpool. 👊#AVLLIV pic.twitter.com/COjIIXG8RQ
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) December 26, 2022
Liverpool team news, injuries, lineup options
OUT: Luis Diaz (knee), Diogo Jota (thigh), Roberto Firmino (calf), James Milner (hamstring), Curtis Jones (calf), Arthur Melo (thigh)
🟢 #AVLLIV TEAM NEWS 🟢
Here’s how we line-up to face Aston Villa this evening 👊
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 26, 2022