In their Premier League return from the World Cup break, Liverpool closed the gap for Champions League qualification to five points after they secured a 3-1 victory against Aston Villa on Monday.The Reds got off to the perfect start after five minutes as defender Trent Alexander-Arnold’s exquisite pass with the outside of his foot found Andy Robertson, who allowed striker Mohamed Salah to add the finishing touch. Defender Virgil van Dijk added a second goal after a number of Liverpool chances, with Salah turning provider to help earn a two-goal lead before the break.Manager Jurgen Klopp’s side were slow to start the second half and were punished after Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins headed one past goalkeeper Alisson, while misses from Darwin Nunez and Salah provided Unai Emery’s side with hope. That was until Stefan Bajcetic was introduced for Liverpool and the 18-year-old’s goal in the 81st minute eased Liverpool’s nerves as they saw out the remainder of the game.Liverpool remain in sixth place on the table after a disappointing start to the season, but with Monday’s win are now just five points from fourth-place Tottenham and the Champions League qualification zone.- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga and more (U.S.)- O’Hanlon: How a multi-team Premier League trade could workPositivesA strong attacking display from Liverpool saw multiple chances created, and the three points will be vital in the race for the top four.NegativesLiverpool lowered their intensity in the second-half, and that allowed Aston Villa with a path back into the game. Klopp’s side could have allowed the hosts to restore parity on another day.Manager rating (out of 10)Jurgen Klopp, 8 — Klopp adapted well to Aston Villa’s changes throughout the match to ensure that the Reds didn’t ever lose grip, despite a difficult start to the second half. Klopp’s introduction of Bajcetic with the game at 2-1 in the 79th minute proved to be decisive, with the 18-year-old quickly restoring the two-goal lead.Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)GK Alisson, 7 — Liverpool’s star between the posts was as assured as ever in goal, and made the saves that he was expected to.2 RelatedDF Virgil van Dijk, 8 — A solid display from the Dutch centre-back, who was called upon to make a number of interventions. He scored Liverpool’s second goal to hand his side a two-goal lead going into the break.DF Joel Matip, 6 — He lost track of Watkins for Aston Villa’s goal in an otherwise positive performance from Matip. Impressed with his distribution from the back again.DF Andy Robertson, 8 — The Scotland captain utilised his space on the left flank to produce an excellent opening ball to Nunez. Then he secured his assist by cutting the ball back to Salah. He also defended excellently across the match.DF Trent Alexander-Arnold, 8 — Alexander-Arnold displayed all of his playmaking abilities from right-back on the night, with his pass to Robertson before Liverpool’s first goal straight from the top drawer.MF Fabinho, 7 — Followed up his strong performance in midweek against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup with another aggressive display from the No. 6 position. Close with an effort from range in the second half.MF Thiago, 6 — Kept things simple for the majority of the game, but couldn’t seem to adapt after Aston Villa showed more intensity in the second half. Replaced in the 66th minute by Naby Keita.MF Jordan Henderson, 7 — An assured performance from the Liverpool captain, who displayed his passing range on the night, regularly putting the ball into the right channels for his attacking players.Mohamed Salah’s early goal got Liverpool out on the front foot early and set the tone at Villa Park for Liverpool’s win. Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty ImagesFW Darwin Nunez, 6 — The Uruguay international got himself into dangerous areas as usual, but once again was let down by his finishing, with multiple chances in the game to get on the scoresheet. Played a significant part in Liverpool’s third goal after driving a cross across the box before Bajcetic’s goal.FW Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 6 — Took up promising positions inside to allow Robertson acres of space on the left-flank. Worked hard to maintain the press from the front.FW Mohamed Salah, 8 — Salah didn’t take long to get back to scoring ways as he finished from Robertson’s cut-back after five minutes. He then turned provider to assist Van Dijk.SubstitutesThe beautiful game lives here. Stream top leagues, tournaments and teams.Sign up for ESPN+TUESDAY, DEC. 27• Bolton vs. Derby County (10 a.m. ET)• Reading vs. Swansea City (12 p.m. ET)• Burnley vs. Birmingham City (3 p.m. ET)THURSDAY, DEC. 29• QPR vs. Luton Town (1 p.m. ET)• Real Betis vs. Athletic Club (1 p.m. ET)• Millwall vs. Bristol City (2:40 p.m. ET)• Blackpool vs. Sheffield United (3 p.m. ET)• Atletico Madrid vs. Elche (3:20 p.m. ET)
Naby Keita (Thiago, 66″), 6 — Fired a strike over the bar with a promising opportunity from outside of the box.Harvey Elliott (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 66″), 6 — Passed the ball well in closed spaces to help build Liverpool attacks, and kept things simple. Linked well with Robertson.Joe Gomez (Alexander-Arnold, 79″), N/R — xStefan Bajcetic (Henderson, 79″), N/R — Took just two minutes to get himself onto the scoresheet with a cool finish from inside of the box. His first senior goal for Liverpool.Ben Doak (Nunez, 87″), N/R — A Premier League debut for Ben Doak.