Friday 23 February 2018

Sturridge leads Klopp's six-shooters in Valentine's Day massacre of abject Villa

Aston Villa 0-6 Liverpool

A Liverpool fan kisses Divock Origi of Liverpool as he celebrates
A Liverpool fan kisses Divock Origi of Liverpool as he celebrates
Carles Gil and Jores Okore of Aston Villa show their dejection as they leave the field. Photo: Getty
Kolo Toure celebrates with team-mates after scoring his team's sixth goal. Photo: Getty
Daniel Sturridge scores the opening goal for Liverpool. Photo: Getty
Liverpool's French defender Mamadou Sakho (C) and Liverpool's Ivorian defender Kolo Toure (R) duck as Liverpool's Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet punches the ball clear. Photo: Getty

Chris Bascombe

There are occasions when all that is left is to find multiple variations on the theme of being 'abject'. For the Aston Villa manager, Remi Garde, this was such an afternoon.

He offered "humiliating" as the most powerful description of the capitulation to Liverpool at Villa Park, and would no doubt agree 'gutless' and 'gruesome' fit the bill just as snugly as he acknowledged his team's lack of fight in a comprehensive beating.

"It is the worst defeat I have ever had," Garde said. As a manager and a player? "As a manager, but my memory is not so good to remember every game I played."

Seconds after completing his post-match analysis, which in truth was more of a post-mortem than a press conference, the French manager was asked if he would be considering his position after Villa's worst home loss since 1935.

"I have answered the last question," he said, making his exit.

Either he was following media room etiquette after the microphone had been pulled away or inviting ambiguity as many wondered if could stomach any more days like this. Villa's scouts should save themselves the bother of assessing the next Premier League opponents and dispatch themselves to Championship venues in preparation for next season.

"As you can imagine I am very disappointed. I feel like it was a humiliation when you concede six at home. It is very painful," Garde said.

"We do not have time to mourn. I hope we're not back to square one. There are 12 games to go. I will find the players with the desire to fight for these games.

"I always knew this was a fragile situation. I have my responsibility with this result. I am very sad and frustrated like all the fans in Villa Park. I feel sorry for them."

The gallows humour was complete when Garde revealed that the Villa forward Gabriel Agbonlahor was suffering from vertigo. "Don't you only get that in high places?" the Villa manager was asked.

Liverpool could have been forgiven for thinking they were experiencing their second consecutive walkout. For 77 minutes against ticket prices last week read 71 against boardroom judgments this one - the time on which Kolo Toure headed the visitors' sixth.

Randy Lerner was the subject of the Villa fans' taunts as they stared in disbelief and revulsion at the wreckage of a proud club.

If you want to offer any consolation to Villa - not that it was deserved - they must feel persecuted by Daniel Sturridge (left), whose only league goals this season have been against the same side.

When Sturridge plays, everyone at Liverpool looks, feels and performs better. The England striker has the capacity to turn an ordinary team into an exceptional one. For all of Villa's numerous deficiencies it was the imprint left by the returning Sturridge that was both thrilling and infuriating for Jurgen Klopp, his manager.

There is an alternative reality in both this season and the last, where Liverpool have their main asset fit and available and are able to build on the foundation of their near miss in the title race of two seasons ago. No club should be so dependent on one player, but to lose Sturridge is the equivalent of Barcelona missing Lionel Messi.

Sturridge's movement enabled midfielders such as Emre Can to enjoy his most complete game for the club, and overlapping full-back Nathaniel Clyne to make the most of the empty spaces as Villa briefly, forlornly, considered the merits of trying to stop the onslaught.

Klopp also benefited from Philippe Coutinho's return, his interplay with Sturridge and Roberto Firmino a delight.

Coutinho was the provider for Sturridge's opening goal, a close-range header it would be tempting to describe as straightforward were it not for the fact crosses to Liverpool strikers occupying the six-yard box have been so rare.

Once James Milner consolidated the lead by drifting in a free-kick that Villa's defenders and goalkeeper Mark Bunn misjudged, the home fans were already fearing how many they would concede.

Their terrors were realised when Can struck the third soon after the break and Liverpool added three more in eight second-half minutes - Divock Origi, Clyne and Toure the scorers.

"It was a good performance for the soul," Klopp said. "We need the goals of Daniel. It is not a surprise he scores but how tuned in he is with the team. He is a real striker. Today he was brilliant, but this is not a day for us to sing songs."

Klopp was sympathetic to Villa and also looking at the league table with the recognition that it is a long way from party time at Anfield.

The visiting fans must have been considering at least one familiar tune, however.

Had they chanted 'Can we play you every week?' it would not have been aimed at the relegation certainties they battered, but at the transformative Sturridge.

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