1) Contrasting fortunes for strikers
This was Gabriel Agbonlahor's third successive start for Villa after previously failing to make the starting XI since the start of November. The local lad was linked with a move away in January, but an injury crisis in forward areas allowed him another opportunity in the west Midlands. He cut an isolated figure throughout Sunday’s encounter, though, winning only four of his eight attacking aerial duals before being substituted for Scott Sinclair - who did not fare much better - before the hour mark.
For Daniel Sturridge, it was a first league start since Jurgen Klopp’s appointment in October. The former Manchester City and Chelsea frontman, who spent four years with Villa as a youngster, put a smile on his manager’s face as early as the 15th minute, when he met Philippe Coutinho’s cross with a header to open the scoring.
It was the “perfect goal”, Klopp claimed in his post-match press conference. Sturridge, who didn’t need to move too much to lose his marker, has now scored five times in his last four league appearances against Villa. Mark Bunn made a great one-handed save to deny him another just before half-time, with the striker’s curled effort forcing a good save from the Villa custodian. Klopp will now know - if he didn’t already - that Sturridge is the difference-maker for this Liverpool team.
2) Full-backs key to width
Both sides lined up in a 4-3-2-1 formation, each with a pair of No.10s. The key distinction was that of the midfield three, however, with Ashley Westwood the deep-lying playmaker for Villa and Liverpool utilising both Emre Can and Jordan Henderson in holding roles. This allowed James Milner to push further up the pitch, although he did also have the responsibility of helping Nathaniel Clyne in defensive areas.
The midfielders occasionally pulled out to the flanks, while those in the hole also sometimes made lateral movements to find space, but the majority of the width was provided by the full-backs. Alberto Moreno profited the most, the Spaniard continually providing Coutinho with the overlap option; he was successful with 15 of 18 attempted passes in the attacking third, with Coutinho giving him the ball on 10 occasions.
Clyne’s advancing runs saw him make three crosses and score the fifth goal as Liverpool ran riot.
3) Can and Henderson provide base for Liverpool to build
The two midfielders were superb throughout, with Klopp’s decision to use Henderson alongside Can in the first half ensuring the defence was given adequate protection throughout. Can registered an 88.9% pass completion rate, successfully making 64 out of an attempted 72 passes, with his relationship with Henderson helping Liverpool to dominate the central area.
There was certainly some scepticism over the use of the double-pivot against the lowest-ranked team in the league, but the tactic made it difficult for Jordan Veretout and Jesus Gil to find space. It also allowed Liverpool to pick Villa off at will once they had taken the lead, nicking the ball in midfield before breaking forward quickly. Captain Henderson made six tackles and Can five, with the German putting the result beyond doubt with a fantastic strike from the edge of the area to make it 3-0 after 60 minutes.
4) Transfer strategies have cost both clubs dear
Aston Villa may be bottom of the Premier League and Liverpool in the top half, but there are a number of similarities in the two club’s transfer strategies. At Villa, chief executive Tom Fox leads the recruitment team, with managers forced to make do with a number of unwanted and unsuited personnel handed down to them from above.
Liverpool’s infamous transfer committee has attracted a lot of criticism, meanwhile: the differing opinions of former boss Brendan Rodgers and the rest of the group resulted in the Reds’ squad being filled with a mish-mash of players who did not really fit into one coherent style of play.
All of which means that both teams have a number of players that simply look out of place in relation to their team-mates and managers’ philosophy. Remi Garde and Klopp are having to mould teams out of unbalanced squads.
5) Villa aren't a completely lost cause
It may have been their heaviest defeat of the season and an absolutely woeful performance all-round, but it’s still not impossible for Garde to pull Villa out of the mire. They're just two points worse off than Leicester City were at this stage last season, after all, with Nigel Pearson’s men going on to survive by a comfortable margin of six points.
"We still have a chance,” Garde said after victory over Norwich City last week. The Frenchman has taken time to assess his squad and, this thrashing notwithstanding, results have improved now that he has found the players he trusts. Micah Richards has been moved to right-back in the absence of Alan Hutton, while Leandro Bacuna is now playing as part of a midfield three, with Jordan Veretout further forward alongside Carles Gil in behind the lone striker.
There were certainly some early moments of optimism for the home supporters as Villa started the game brightly, but Sturridge’s goal - from Liverpool’s first attempt on goal - was deflating. Heads dropped quickly as the visitors grew in confidence, but there were positives to take from their display in the opening minutes, with Idrissa Gueye’s performance throughout - the midfielder worked tirelessly, making 13 ball recoveries, seven tackles and 10 interceptions - worthy of praise.
“It’s only three points lost,” Garde insisted after the match as he tried to put a brave face on the situation. He now has to somehow ensure his players forget about this disaster and remain focused on what they did in order to gain five points from their previous four league matches.
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