It was heart in throat kind of stuff as Liverpool claimed their first Premier League win since the middle of August to provide the tiniest bit of relief on the pressure that’s been mounting on boss Brendan Rodgers.
Stand-in skipper James Milner got things rolling a mere two minutes from kick-off with a wonderful control and finish to give the Reds the lead, but Aston Villa turned up the pressure as the half wore on, unlucky not to level with Ashley Westwood’s shot flying just wide. Daniel Sturridge, making only his second start this season, bagged himself a superb volley for his first of two second half goals, but Rudy Gestede would score from close range and thump in a towering header to sandwich the England man’s composed finish as he completed his brace and provided a timely reminder of his importance to the team.
With big-money duo Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino both missing through injury, the 26-year old had a prime opportunity to reintroduce himself to the Kop faithful and in typical fashion he took it with aplomb. Transfer fees and expectations be damned — at Anfield Sturridge is still the daddy.
And, unsurprisingly, Liverpool are still Liverpool; Milner’s excellent opener aside, the Reds dominated possession and dictated the play against a poor Villa side, but looked predictably blunt as they laboured to build on the vice-captain’s opener. You’ve heard the story about possession without purpose before so I’m not going to bore you with all that. The stats, as usual, speak for themselves; if you have have over 70% of he ball, any side worth their salt should fashion more than the handful of chances we created in the opening 45-minutes.
That, of course, leads me into my next point which will quickly make my first moot — if you’re taking advantage of your opportunities when they come, it really doesn’t matter just how many you’re creating. While a lot of the slickness of the 2013/2014 team wasn’t present on Saturday, there was a familiarity to the style of play that was almost comforting in a way with calamitous defending at one end of the pitch and the kind of sharpness in front of the opponents net that sucks the air right out of your lungs before you explode in raucous celebration. In this Liverpool team, having a clinical striker can make all the difference.
That being said, Liverpool still have a very, very long way to go; three-points on Saturday didn’t get us “back on track” or “right the ship” or whatever other metaphor is en vogue this week, but it was a confirmation that knowing how to win and actually achieving it isn’t beyond us quite yet. It was also a stark reminder that Emre Can, who got lost in the shuffle when Gestede scored his first, is not a defender by nature and that Mamadou Sakho, who was powerless to stop the Benin international from claiming his second, isn’t the end all, be all when it comes to solving our woes at the back. There’s still piles of work to be done and beating Villa, who are now nestled in the relegated zone, isn’t going to do much to sway popular opinion back towards Rodgers and his methods.
It’s not going to do the Northern Irishman any harm though; after plodding to penalties in the League Cup earlier in the week, the result should be enough to put a smile on even the sourest of pusses. The riggly arms dance, the Kop in full voice, Lucas winning every tackle everywhere, Milner unabashedly celebrating against his old side and our first win at Anfield against the Villains for about five years? If you weren’t toothy after that, you need to re-evaluate why you’re watching football.
Life’s too short to be a miserable git all the time.