For Brendan Rodgers, this may have been a stay of execution or it may be a turning point but, whatever it was, this was far and away Liverpool’s best performance of a fraught start to the season. The journey towards the gallows so many had erected for him had begun with an utterly insipid defeat by Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi-final last season and it might have been appropriate if it had ended here.
Whether this win, full of fine forward play and dreadful defending, puts an end to the crisis, only time will tell. Liverpool’s next game is the Merseyside derby and Rodgers (pictured) is under no illusions.
“I am pretty clear that there is a group of people who don’t want me here,” said Rodgers, who is not the first Liverpool manager to be discomforted by former players voicing strong opinions in the media.
He did not name them, referring instead to: “people outside of here”. He added: “In all competitions we have lost fewer games than Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. The hysteria surrounding ourselves is interesting to note.
“Sometimes we have not lost games and the hysteria has been pretty clear. Maybe there is something going on from behind. As supporters and as players, we got the victory today and now we are five points off the top.”
It might not be a coincidence that it marked the return of Daniel Sturridge to full fitness. Liverpool had not scored three since beating Tottenham 3-2 in February, which was the last game the striker started before suffering a hip injury.
He found the net twice and left the field to a standing ovation. The first was a volley from a flick by James Milner, who captained Liverpool superbly in what was a pressure moment. The second was a drive from just inside the area and, but for Brad Guzan’s full-stretch save, he might have had a hat-trick.
He was not even the biggest threat to Villa – Philippe Coutinho loosed off no fewer than seven shots and Jordan Amavi blocked brilliantly and instinctively when it appeared Nathaniel Clyne had to score. The Liverpool defender responded by pounding the grass in front of the Kop with his fist.
As Villa’s manager, Tim Sherwood, noted, this was the second successive away game in which his team had scored twice and returned home with nothing. They have not won since beating Bournemouth on the opening day of the season and their only other point has come against the piece of wreckage trading under the name of Sunderland.
Sherwood might soon be experiencing some of the hysteria doing the rounds in the Premier League. Almost his last words to his team before they went out was that, given the nerves surrounding Liverpool, Villa should keep it tight and wait for anxiety to start gripping Anfield. They were a goal down within 66 seconds when Milner drove past Guzan from the edge of the area.
Only after the interval, when Villa began injecting width into their play and aiming balls towards the tall Rudy Gestede did they start to exploit what is still Liverpool’s great weakness – a fragile defence, protecting a goalkeeper no defender seems to trust.
It was perhaps typical of Villa that once Gestede had slid in to ram home Alan Hutton’s cross, Liverpool scored their third within a minute. Another cross, this time from Amavi, brought hope as Gestede scored again but Liverpool clung on for a first home win over Villa in five years. The last Liverpool manager to beat them at Anfield was Roy Hodgson – who was gone within a month.
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