Comment: Crisis not over yet for Brendan Rodgers
On the day when Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers went in search of salvation, it was fitting that one of his few successful signings came to his rescue in a 3-2 win against Aston Villa.
Rodgers has put his name to the capture of 31 players since he arrived as the surprising pick to take over from Kenny Dalglish as Anfield chief in the summer of 2012 and one of the reasons why his future is now on the line has been the lack of success he has managed to extract from his key additions.
A manager who spend £291.5m on fresh talent should expect a third of them to make some kind of impact at the very least, yet far too many players who have been signed for big money in the Rodgers era at Anfield have come and gone in disappointing fashion.
In fact, striker Sturridge and Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho stand alone as shining success stories for Rodgers in the transfer market and the duo combined to dig him out of an increasingly menacing hole on a day when he knew he dare not lose at Anfield.
Liverpool supporters are among the most loyal in English football and while they have been desperate to stand by Rodgers as his hold on power at Anfield has loosened with increasing haste in the last few weeks, this was a day when even the most loyal backer of the Irish tactician appreciated he had reached the point of no return.
Defeat against Aston Villa in front of The Kop would surely have meant the end for a manager whose credibility to remain in his post has become increasingly hard to justify in recent weeks and you got a sense that Rodgers’ players appreciated the gravity of the plight facing their boss.
Rodgers were fortunate to be served up opponents equally lacking in confidence and belief, yet the players in red shirts needed to confirm they were up for the fight from the off at the scene of their horribly flat display against Carlisle in the Capital One Cup last Wednesday.
James Milner led the way with his brilliantly taken opening goal after just 66 seconds, but the defining memory from this victory will be the goals of Sturridge, that were as brilliant as they were clinical from the England striker.
The England forward has spent far too much time in the treatment room since his £12m move from Chelsea in January 2013, but the rousing ovation he was offered as Rodgers replaced him in the closing minutes of the win against Villa confirmed that his return could be the turning point in this troubled campaign.
Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert have tried and failed to fill the Sturridge void in the last year, but the player reported to be the highest earner on the Liverpool wage bill gave a reminder of why he is worthy of that status with two sumptuous goals against Villa.
His first after 59 minutes highlighted his class, as he latched on to Milner’s flicked pass and produced a crushing finish with the outside of his boot that took the breath away.
His second eight minutes later was another work of art, as a fluid passing move finish with a pass into the goal from Sturridge.
The goals timely reminders of the quality Liverpool have had perched in their sick bay for far too long.
With Danny Ings impressing once again and Coutinho also looking back to somewhere near his best and Christian Benteke still to return, Rodgers’ side appear to have the attacking firepower they need to outscore teams once again.
Yet do not allow this one victory to paper over all the cracks in a team that are still a disaster waiting to happen at the back.
Every time Villa crossed the halfway line, Liverpool’s defensive line looked shaky and if they defend in the same shambolic fashion as they did in this game, Everton will beat them in next weekend’s Merseyside derby.
While the much-needed victory against Villa will keep the hounds from Rodgers’ door for a few more days, the clamour for him to be replaced by Jurgen Klopp or Carlo Ancelotti will reach fever pitch if Everton beat them in the final round of matches before the international break.
This crisis is not over for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool, far from it.