Aston Villa hit for six as Liverpool push them closer to relegation
Liverpool ran riot at Aston Villa to inflict the hosts' heaviest-ever home Barclays Premier League defeat.
The Reds routed the rock-bottom side 6-0 to claim their first win in six games while Villa lurched towards the Sky Bet Championship.
Daniel Sturridge and James Milner made it 2-0 before the break but the floodgates opened in the second half.
Three goals in seven minutes from Emre Can, Divock Origi and Nathaniel Clyne embarrassed Villa before Kolo Toure made it 6-0.
Calamitous Villa offered nothing and are on course to be relegated having never conceded five or more goals at home in the Barclays Premier League.
The embarrassing hosts, eight points from safety, suffered their 16th and most damming league loss of the season and are almost certain to drop out of the Premier League for the first time.
There was little love for the hosts on Valentine's Day and their fans turned on them as thousands deserted the stadium with over half an hour left.
The first 15 minutes gave little hint of what was to come but after a forgettable opening the game burst into life when the returning Sturridge made his mark to accept a gift from Villa.
The hosts had looked composed, without threatening, but allowed Sturridge the freedom of the area to guide Philippe Coutinho's cross in from six yards.
The injury-hit striker, who was making just his fourth league start of the season, sent a timely reminder to England manager Roy Hodgson ahead of Euro 2016.
Ten minutes later it was 2-0 when Milner's free-kick from the left, after Jores Okore felled Coutinho, had Mark Bunn flapping and dropped into the corner.
It was a fortuitous goal and the lead was out of keeping with a game which lacked intensity.
Jordan Henderson should have made it 3-0 but his volley was deflected wide by Okore before Bunn saved from Roberto Firmino.
The hosts wilted even further and an air of resignation surrounded Villa Park following the hosts' first-half no show - although worse was to come.
Bunn stopped Sturridge two minutes before the break when he turned the striker's effort away but Liverpool had already done the damage.
They had barely had to work for their comfortable lead and Simon Mignolet maintained it with a routine stop from Leandro Bacuna after the restart.
But the game was over after three goals inside seven minutes following more dreadful defending from Villa.
First, on 58 minutes, Can robbed Bacuna midway inside Villa's half, allowing Firmino to race away and he teed up Can to drill in from the edge of the box.
Then, five minutes later Origi was sent clear by Coutinho and he fired beyond Bunn with just his second touch after coming on 60 seconds before.
Worse was to follow as just 156 seconds later Clyne bundled in from four yards after Bunn failed to hold his initial shot.
Villa capitulated and Toure made 6-0 with 19 minutes remaining after the hosts granted him time to plant an unmarked header in from 10 yards.
Scott Sinclair hit the post for the hosts but, jo b done, Liverpool eased off to the relief of Villa who are destined for relegation.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"Today's key word is "prodigious" and it shall be awarded to Roberto Firmino. Prodigiously talented, but also prodigious work rate. #LFC" - European Football analyst Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) singled out the performance of Roberto Firmino as Liverpool condemned Aston Villa to their worst home defeat in 81 years.
ASTON VILLA (Out of 10)
Mark Bunn: 3
Micah Richards: 3
Jores Okore: 3
Joleon Lescott: 3
Aly Cissokho: 4
Ashley Westwood: 4
Idrissa Gana: 3
Leandro Bacuna: 3
Carles Gil: 4
Jordan Veretout: 3
Gabby Agbonlahor: 3
Jordan Lyden: 4
Scott Sinclair: 5
Alan Hutton: 4
Simon Mignolet: 7
Nathaniel Clyne: 8
Kolo Toure: 7
Mamadou Sakho: 7
Alberto Moreno: 7
Jordan Henderson: 7
Emre Can: 7
James Milner: 7
Philippe Coutinho: 8
Roberto Firmino: 8
Daniel Sturridge: 8
Divock Origi: 7
Kevin: Stewart: 6
Christian Benteke: 7
STAR MAN: Philippe Coutinho: The midfielder pulled the strings at Villa Park and the hosts could not get close to him. His inch-perfect cross set up Daniel Sturridge for the opener and his brilliant pass sent Divock Origi clear to make it 4-0 and open the floodgates. Liverpool have rarely been allowed to play their preferred front three this season due to injury but with Coutinho, Sturridge and Roberto Firmino they have class and potency.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH:
Daniel Sturridge: Had not started in the Barclays Premier League since October and could not have wished for a better way to announce his comeback. He was given all the time he needed to head in Countinho's cross after splitting Jores Okore and Joleon Lescott.
The England striker is unlikely to be given better gifts by other teams but the goal was a timely reminder to Three Lions boss Roy Hodgson ahead of Euro 2016.
MOAN OF THE MATCH:
Villa are going down with a whimper after a shocking display. Last week's 2-0 win over Norwich - a side as poor as Villa - proved a false down as they reverted to type and offered little resistance. Their defending was slapdash and they gifted Liverpool a 2-0 lead at the break before buckling completely.
Three goals in seven second-half minutes saw Villa crushed and there is little they can do to stop relegation and their fans walked out with over half an hour left. The ones who stayed at least tried to rally their side.
VIEW FROM THE DUGOUT:
How Remi Garde lifts his broken Aston Villa players from this latest defeat will take all of his man management skills. There were no positives as Villa were humilated as Garde watched helplessly from the touchline. Jurgen Klopp will be delighted with how his side dispatched the hosts but he will be under no illusion they won't face many sides as bad as Villa this season.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Stoke City v Aston Villa (Barclays Premier League, Saturday 27 February)
FC Ausburg v Liverpool (UEFA Europa League, Thursday 18 February)
Villa manager Garde felt his side lacked fight and said he felt sorry for the fans, scores of whom walked out before the final whistle.
"We underperformed so badly that I feel very sorry for the Aston Villa fans, because they are always behind us if we are fighting but didn't fight on many occasions," Garde told Sky Sports 1.
The Frenchman was quick to state that despite the heavy defeat, his side still maintain hope of staying up.
"It is only one game and then of course as I said earlier, Liverpool is a very good team with so many talented players. Hopefully we won't play such a good team every week until the end (of the season)," he added.
"But I still believe we can win games and hopefully it will be enough to be safe."
Sturridge, who returned to the starting XI after a number of injuries had kept him on the sidelines, did not believe it was that important for him to get back on the scoresheet but insisted that a team victory was the main focus.
"It didn't help (psychologically) too much to be honest," Sturridge said of his goal.
"It was just more important to help my team win the game, whether it's assists, whether it's goals or making runs, that's all that matters."
Liverpool boss Klopp said: "We scored wonderful goals and it is not too often in a manager's life that in the last 20 minutes you can really enjoy, but today it was like this so I'm very grateful."
The German was also pleased to be able to line up Sturridge and Coutinho alongside one another.
"Of course it makes a huge difference but we don't think about these things when they are not there, you work with the players who are available," he said.
"Everything is better when you have your highest quality on the pitch so these two players are very, very important and they showed it today."