Monday 14 October 2019

Suarez pulls strings in Villa demolition


Tim Rich at Villa Park

JUST before kick-off, those two Scottish warriors, Kenny Dalglish and Alex McLeish, embraced and the Liverpool manager flashed his counterpart an assassin's smile. By the time a quarter of an hour had passed, Aston Villa's throat had been cut.

The only question thereafter was how many Liverpool would score and the surprise was that the answer was only two.

In everything bar the scoreline, this was a massacre. This was Liverpool's fifth away win and most have come in English football's grand stadia -- the Emirates, Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park.

Villa Park fits comfortably in that list, although the fact that the Holte End had emptied long before the final whistle demonstrated the grim fact that Aston Villa's personnel do not match their surroundings.

A year ago, Liverpool had lost at home to a side from the West Midlands, Wolves, and become convulsed by the spasms that ended in Dalglish's return and the rebirth of a club.

Had they not dropped points at Anfield against Sunderland, Norwich and Swansea -- and had they not struck the frame of the goal 15 times already this season before yesterday's match -- Liverpool might be doing rather more than merely window shopping on the fringes of the Champions League places.

It was hit twice more by Luis Suarez, who had spent three days in a hotel answering charges of racism laid by Manchester United's Patrice Evra. That he was able to play at all says something; that the Uruguayan was able to play so beautifully was exceptional.

There were two supreme moments of skill that ought, with any natural justice, to have been rewarded with something better than what used to be called the sound of leather on woodwork.

First, he was fed by Craig Bellamy and accelerated away only to be intercepted by Richard Dunne, who then lost the ball in his own area. Suarez turned James Collins, picked his spot and curled his shot against the underside of the crossbar. By now he would have known instinctively it would not be going in.

Moments later, Suarez deceived Brad Guzan with a fabulous chip that struck the inside of an upright.

"He is perpetual motion," said McLeish when asked to sum up Liverpool's striker. "He is a player who makes a big, big difference."

A training-ground injury ensured that Darren Bent, the one Aston Villa player who might have made a big, big difference, was absent and, with Gabriel Agbonlahor suspended, McLeish had no option but to turn to his old warhorse, Emile Heskey, whose cavalry charges are long behind him.

Charles N'Zogbia tried manfully to fill the gap but, after the interval, Villa's passing became sloppier and Liverpool ever more dominant.

"Sometimes determination and will can overcome skill, which Liverpool had in abundance, but they had too much nous for us," said McLeish. "We should not be making these mistakes and sometimes you have to believe in yourself."

The only thing anyone involved at Villa did with any conviction was to howl down Stewart Downing, although the winger's decision to abandon the Midlands for Merseyside has been entirely justified by events.


"You must have led a sheltered life if you thought that was bad," Dalglish smiled. "But I think the Villa fans would have been better off giving support to their own side."

Frankly, after 15 minutes, it would have been of precious little use. McLeish's sides do not as a rule over-indulge in goals and they do not recover from two-goal deficits.

After a 4-1 defeat at Manchester City in October, McLeish reflected that their weakness at defending set-pieces was one that could be overcome relatively easily on the training ground. The fact that both Liverpool goals came from corners suggests there is plenty of work left to do.

The first was delivered by Downing. Jonjo Shelvey -- who but for the injuries to Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard would still be on loan at Blackpool -- back-heeled it towards goal; Suarez did the same with the rebound and Bellamy finished it off.

Four minutes later and Villa themselves were finished. This time their downfall was even more straightforward; a routine corner that Martin Skrtel met before Alan Hutton and headed in off the post.

Seventy-five minutes stretched ahead in which the home side somehow avoided further punishment, while the advertising boards promoted Wednesday night's chance to "see Arsenal under the floodlights".

If that is the only electricity on the pitch, Villa will be taken apart. (© Independent News Service)

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