Champions League beckons for Aston Villa after late fightback to draw six-goal thriller with Liverpool

Champions League beckons for Aston Villa after late fightback to draw six-goal thriller with Liverpool

Aston Villa may not have secured Champions League qualification in their 3-3 draw with Liverpool on Monday night, but the nature of their spirited late comeback meant they at least signed off on a superb year at Villa Park on a high.

It certainly didn’t look to be heading that way when Emi Martinez put through his own net in the second minute, but Villa clawed their way back into it via Youri Tielemans’ strike.

Liverpool looked to have secured the win via goals from Cody Gakpo and Jarell Quansah before Jhon Duran emerged off the bench to snatch a stunning point with a late brace.

Villa entered the game on a run of three consecutive defeats but knew that a first win over Jurgen Klopp since 2020 would secure them fourth place and Champions League qualification.

But they endured the worst possible start when Martinez put through his own net in comical fashion after barely 90 seconds, the goalkeeper failing to grasp a Harvey Elliott cross that deflected towards the goalkeeper’s chest and palming it over his own goalline.

It could have been two when Mohamed Salah went close moments later and yet Villa rode out the storm before equalising against the run of play. Ollie Watkins beat Quansah all ends up down the left flank before picking out Tielemans, whose shot arrowed past a pair of lacklustre blocks and into the bottom corner.

On 23 minutes, Liverpool led again. Joe Gomez wandered freely down the left side and his low shot was turned Gakpo’s way, allowing for a tap-in which VAR confirmed as onside after a lengthy check.

Villa were running on fumes yet still mustered a response before the half was out, Diego Carlos somehow turning Leon Bailey’s cross wide from a yard out - and taking the ball off Watkins’ far-more-able toe in the process.

Such misses have been more typical of Liverpool this season yet they emerged for the restart and doubled their lead via Quansah’s first Premier League goal, as the young defender rose highest to direct Elliott’s free-kick home with a delightful looping header.

Villa thought they had earned an instant route back into the match but VAR spotted Bailey in an offside position as he teed up what would have been Watkins’ 20th of the season. The England striker then flicked a huge chance wide after an Alisson Becker error, as Liverpool began to needlessly ride their luck and the knackered Villa players began to bicker amongst themselves over who was taking whose chances.

The Reds then had a goal disallowed when Luis Diaz broke the line too early before setting up Elliott and Salah, who fell over each other as the ball was rolled home. VAR confirmed the flag was right to rise.

Unai Emery had few options off the bench to change up his team yet the introduction of Colombian youngster Duran, who only replaced the earlier substitute Nicolo Zaniolo because of an injury, proved telling.

On 85 minutes, he made Alexis Mac Allister pay for losing possession in his own half with a rocket from 20 yards that nestled in the bottom corner. Almost instantly, it was 3-3 when a Moussa Diaby pass intended for Watkins was inadvertently punted past Alisson by Duran to send Villa Park wild.

The point may not itself be the thing which gets Villa over the line and back into Europe’s premier competition after 40 years away, given Tottenham must now pull off a five-point reversal instead of an already-unlikely four-point one starting with Manchester City on Tuesday, yet Emery’s side have certainly proved they are worthy of a seat at the top table.

John McGinn said after the final whistle: “Big Jhon is a bit nuts, he can be a nightmare to have on your team but the first was a top finish. We’ll have to try and keep his feet on the ground next couple of days.

“Some of us have never been close to Champions League football, it’s massive. What’s gone under the radar is the injuries, but the manager has a no-excuse mentality. We’ve floated under the radar and we’ll have the Man City tops on tomorrow night!”