Former Liverpool captain Gerrard was, predictably, given a rapturous reception after playing 710 games and scoring 186 goals for the club while winning the Champions League, FA Cup, Uefa Cup and League Cup.
Gerrard’s response to the adulation was low-key as his Villa side, who had won three of his first four games in charge since arriving from Rangers, set about making life difficult for Liverpool and frustrating the Kop.
Villa achieved their aim, aided by fine saves from keeper Emi Martinez, until they were finally undone in the 67th minute when Tyrone Mings bundled Mohamed Salah to the ground, the Egyptian scoring the spot-kick in emphatic fashion, the win leaving Liverpool in second place a point behind Manchester City.
Substitute Danny Ings almost took advantage of a late mix-up between Liverpool keeper Alisson and Joel Matip which left Villa fans demanding a penalty in vain, but Jurgen Klopp’s side closed out the win.
Gerrard made it clear he wanted points not sentiment on his emotional Anfield return and his body language from the start made that very plain.
He walked out on to turf he graced for so long to a predictable reaction but his first move was to illustrate exactly where his loyalties lay, applauding Villa’s fans warmly before giving a polite wave in the direction of the Kop.
And his Villa side, while short on attacking ideas, made Liverpool work relentlessly for any rewards, defending with resilience and assisted by a top-class keeper in Martinez before Mings allowed Salah the one moment he needed to escape before he brought him down.
Martinez went the right way but there were no stopping Salah’s penalty as Anfield roared its relief.
Villa then started pushing and Ings almost wrote another Anfield old boy story line when he just failed to take advantage of that Liverpool defensive mix-up in the closing minutes.
Gerrard will be disappointed his side could not maintain the defensive discipline that kept Liverpool at arm’s length for so long. Villa also struggled to create any attacking impetus until it was too late, when they briefly threatened to snatch an unlikely point.
He will be satisfied, however, with many aspects of Villa’s performance. It was not the winning Anfield return he wanted but his impact can be seen already and he has raw materials to work with.
Liverpool bandwagon rolls on
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s trademark triple fist pump in front of the Kop after the final whistle carried a touch of relief as well as celebration after a game in which their persistence and patience was tested by Villa’s organisation and determination.
This was not the flowing Liverpool that has steamrollered so many teams so often, but they stuck at it and eventually got their reward in the shape of the decisive penalty.
The success of Villa’s game plan was reflected in the Kop’s frustration and the sound of regular penalty appeals until referee Stuart Attwell eventually pointed to the spot.
Liverpool were rarely troubled at the back, although for long periods it looked like old boy Gerrard might just leave his former Anfield stage with a point.
Klopp’s side cannot inflict destruction on teams every week, and on a day when their rivals City and Chelsea also had penalties to thank for narrow victories, Liverpool will take his victory as it came and move on.