Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge conundrum and Aston Villa’s atrocious defending were the only conclusions Mark Holmes could draw from Sunday’s Villa Park rout.
Aston Villa had shown signs of revival recently but after Daniel Sturridge and James Milner had given Liverpool a 2-0 half-time lead, Remi Garde’s side collapsed after the interval.
Emre Can, Divock Origi, Nathaniel Clyne and Kolo Toure all scored as Liverpool eventually ran out 6-0 winners, but can any conclusions be drawn from such a one-sided match?
Sturridge decision far from easy
Plenty have suggested that Liverpool should cut their losses on Sturridge, but the England striker served yet another reminder of why that would be such a difficult decision for Jurgen Klopp to make.
Sturridge has been fit and available for only seven of the 31 games Klopp has taken charge of, starting only three, but he has scored in two of them and now has five goals in just 470 minutes of football this season. And that’s without ever managing three consecutive appearances.
Therein, of course, lies the problem. Liverpool and Klopp have been unable to rely on Sturridge to remain fit for any length of time, but in every one of his fleeting appearances the 26-year-old produces moments of quality none of the Reds’ other strikers are capable of.
His goal at Villa Park on Sunday was a simple header – and the defending left a lot to be desired – but the run he get in between two defenders was the sign of a natural goalscorer.
Sturridge was denied a second by Mark Bunn before half-time and possibly showed a touch of understandable fear when only half-heartedly challenging the Villa keeper for a loose ball 10 minutes into the second half, but simply to have a striker consistently looking a threat in the opposition’s box is an improvement on many of Liverpool’s other performances this season.
Another injury would seriously test Klopp’s patience, but the risk of allowing one of the Premier League’s best strikers to get himself fit at another club is one only a brave man would take.
Villa defence a disgrace
It would be wrong to wax lyrical about Liverpool’s attacking display. They did not even play that well.
That comment is not meant to take anything away from the visitors – to win 6-0 warrants praise regardless of the opposition – but Villa’s defending was nothing short of a disgrace.
A defensive mistake is made in the build-up to almost every goal – apart from the odd wonder strike, a manager will always highlight something his side could have done better when defending – but all six of Liverpool’s goals were laughably bad from the hosts’ point of view.
The first, as touched on, saw Joleon Lescott drop off and Aly Cissokho stay still to allow Sturridge the simplest of headers from just outside of the six-yard box. Clearly, there was no communication whatsoever between the Villa defenders or Bunn behind them.
The second saw an inswinging free-kick from James Milner evade everyone and fly straight in. Bunn’s attempt to claim the ball was embarrassingly bad, but there were plenty of players in front of him that could have shown a greater desire to get their head on the ball. It was not the sort of defending associated with a group of players giving their all for the cause.
Liverpool’s third, finished well by Emre Can, came after Leandro Bacuna, who was awful throughout, was robbed after miscontrolling. That same word, embarrassing, sprung to mind again.
Five minutes later, it was 4-0. Coutinho was the creator again, but one can only assume that Moses had intervened to part Lescott and Jores Okore. It was a good through-ball from Coutinho but one which anybody could have made given that amount of space to aim at.
Just two minutes on, the ‘worst goal of the day’ competition continued. This time Nathaniel Clyne was left unmarked to take a pass inside the box, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, he was still free to roll into an empty net after Bunn had made an atrocious attempt to get the ball to safety after initially saving the full-back’s shot.
The ‘worst goal’ contest was a close one, but the sixth goal arguably won it as Kolo Toure was left completely unmarked to head in from a corner. He didn’t have to jump, make a run, do anything – the ball just hit his head and flew in.
It would be tempting to write more about Liverpool and the first step towards them finding a winning formula under Klopp, but that would be to read too much into the scoreline. Frankly, Liverpool could have picked an XI from the stands and still won comfortably.
What the result will do, though, is give the Reds’ squad confidence. Now only three points behind Manchester United in fifth place, a Europa League spot is well within reach. If they can keep Sturridge fit, who knows, they could even make a late challenge for the top four?
The only real conclusion to make from this game, however, is that Villa now have a contender for the worst ever Premier League performance.