Even the most optimistic Aston Villa fan has now accepted that the Midlands club are getting relegated this season.
Even the most optimistic Liverpool fan has now accepted that the Merseyside club are not making it into the top four this season.
It was under that sense of fatalism that the Reds travelled to Villa Park to take on possibly the most miserable team still doing battle in the Premier League on Sunday. The atmosphere was muted around the ground from the off, with the travelling Kop creating the only noise that could be heard in a stadium that deserves to witness better football than they’ve had to put up with this season.
The game was made all the more poignant and frustrating to watch for those of us who had cast an eye over the Arsenal v Leicester game beforehand. Both teams at The Emirates were well and truly in a title race that the Reds haven’t been a part of since the lost 3-0 at home to West Ham. With the league as genuinely as abysmal as it has been it’s no wonder that Liverpool fans have felt so frustrated watching the team stutter and splutter in this campaign.
What A Difference A Dan Makes
If the game felt like something of a dead rubber there was at least a modicum of excitement available to and Reds fans hoping for a straw to clutch at. Daniel Sturridge returned to the starting line-up to give Jurgen Klopp and his marauding team of triers a bona fide class act to work with in the final third. The return of Philippe Coutinho to league action following a hamstring injury was similarly welcomed with a fanfare of optimism.
It was little surprise, then, when the two created Liverpool’s opening goal. It is a combination that we have seen far too little of this season and if they had both been on the pitch more often in the league then I think the Reds would have been challenging for the title, never mind the top four.
That’s 45 from 75 now for Daniel Sturridge. The best goals to game ratio for Liverpool since the Premier League started in 1992. #LFC
— Carl Clemente (@clemente_carl) February 14, 2016
Therein lies the disappointment in a season that should have offered so much more promise. If Daniel Sturridge had stayed fit we could have been watching a title challenge develop today, rather than a team attempt to climb out of the middle of the table. Whilst it’s great to see the England striker back in the team there is a tinge of regret attached that we haven’t seen it more often.
The frustration, of course, should be aimed directly at those responsible for Liverpool’s transfer activity. It’s not exactly a surprise that Liverpool look more dangerous when Sturridge is on the pitch. He not only adds goals but he also takes the pressure of the other players who are expected to stick the ball in the back of the net because he adds such class to the team. It’s also not a shock that he has suffered from injury problems considering that has been the case throughout his career.
Once again Lfc have a mediocre season due to injuries to the main players so frustrating if we had a fit squad what it is capable of! #LFC
— David Thompson (@77thomo) February 14, 2016
So why wasn’t more done to protect the club from his inevitable loss to injury? Who in their right mind thought that either Balotelli or Benteke would be able to make up for the loss of a player whom neither of them are even remotely like?
Doubtless the Liverpool hierarchy would point to simultaneous injuries to Sturridge, Ings and Origi and say that we’ve been unlucky on that front this season, but even that would be stretching the truth. Ings would undoubtably have added to the ‘goals for’ column had he not been taken down by injury, but he wasn’t brought in as a first choice striker. Neither, for that matter, was Origi.
Today isn’t a day for recriminations, though. Two starts for Daniel Sturridge have seen Liverpool score six goals on each occasion. The man is a genuine goalscoring superstar, providing a constant threat in the final third as well as opening up space for his teammates to take advantage of. To see him, Coutinho and Firmino on the pitch together was a thing of beauty and offered a glimpse into what the rest of the season may hold.
Sturridge – 1 goal
Firmino – 1 assist
Coutinho 2 assists
The #LFC trio certainly lived up to the expectations!
— Viktor Fagerström (@ViktorFagerLFC) February 14, 2016
With the League Cup final still to come and the Europa League offering a route into the Champions League that the Premier League no longer can, Jurgen Klopp must be delighted to see the potency of his attack finding its feet with time still left for it to make a difference. Sturridge offers more than just goals – he offers hope, too.
Villa Are Abysmal
Let’s be honest here, Aston Villa are a dreadful football team. Working for Sky Sports, former Red Jamie Carragher said he thought they might be the worst team the Premier League has seen and it’s difficult to disagree with that analysis. The truth that fans of both teams will be reluctant to admit is that Liverpool didn’t even need to play particularly well to get themselves three or four goals clear.
There was a sense of resignation around Villa Park before the game even began and that feeling of over-whelming sadness swept over the players in claret and blue. Nobody really expected Villa to get anything out of today’s game and when Liverpool scored the opener any remnants of hope soon dispersed from the stands.
Klopp: “Today is not a day to sing – out of respect for Aston Villa, a great club having a difficult time.” #LFC pic.twitter.com/cZ3TJfpfdJ
— BPLZone (@BPLZone) February 14, 2016
The truth, is, however, that it’s been a slow death for the Midlanders. They’ve deserved to go down ever since the powers that be decided that bringing in Alex McLeish was a good idea. The Scot not only managed Villa’s biggest rivals but also got them relegated, so who at Villa Park thought he was the man to resurrect their fortunes?
Villa fans are, on the whole, a good set of lads. Yes they can’t help themselves from piping up with the now de rigour bad Tory ‘Sign on, sign on’ chants that most sets of fans think is hilarious, and it’s true that the bad teds who had a ‘birthday party’ for Steven Gerrard on the way to the FA Cup final last year didn’t do themselves any favours. But generally they’re a pretty sound bunch who deserves to watch better football than the tosh they’ve been served up week-in, week-out.
Villa are painful to watch. Very sad seeing one of English football’s great clubs reduced to this.
— Tony Barrett (@TonyBarretTimes) February 14, 2016
This was Villa’s biggest home defeat since the Second World War and it’s not the only piece of unwanted history that the club will have to acknowledge in the coming months. Villa are the only club other than Everton and Spurs outside of the traditional ‘big four’ of Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea never to get relegated from the Premier League. Unless there is a dramatic sea-change in both performances and results, though, the team from the second city will soon be joining Nottingham Forrest as a European Cup winning team no longer plying their trade in the top tier of English football.
The Future’s Bright?
Let’s assume for one minute, however foolishly, that Liverpool’s defence won’t be as leaky next season. The rumours that Klopp is still looking for a new ‘keeper in spite of Mignolet’s new contract suggest that he knows where one of the club’s biggest problems lies. It’s likely, then, that things will tighten up at the back even if they are never sorted completely because of our desire to attack at all costs.
Let’s also work on the basis that balance will be restored to the midfield once the German has been able to take to the transfer market to bring in his own players. He’s had the season to decide who works well and who doesn’t, so the likes of a fully fit Henderson and Emre Can will doubtless find themselves bolstered by some talented new team mates in the future.
Since Klopp took charge, only Spurs, Everton and Leicester have scored more goals than Liverpool in the PL (Man City may add to this later).
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) February 14, 2016
If Klopp can either keep Sturridge fit or else bring in a genuine alternative to his oft-injured but always clinical front man then don’t be surprised to see Liverpool challenging at the right end of the table next season.
Much has been made of Liverpool’s terrible shot-conversion rate this season, and rightly so. The important thing, as the cliche goes, is that Liverpool have had players in the right positions to miss the chances. Make a tweak at the top and chances become goals, goals become points and points become positions in the league table.
Today could well signal the start of a new era for Liverpool. Not only has Daniel Sturridge returned to the starting line-up and shown the damage that can be done when he interacts with the likes of Coutinho and Firmino, but the Reds had six different goal scorers. Heady times indeed.