Liverpool returned to winning ways with a 6-0 mauling of Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon, and Jack Lusby was at Villa Park to take five talking points.
After a deflating 2-1 defeat to West Ham United in Tuesday night’s FA Cup fourth-round replay, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool found their shooting boots on their return to the Premier League.
Leaving Mark Bunn and his defence flatfooted over 90 minutes of frenetic attacking football, Liverpool overwhelmed a beleaguered Villa on their own turf.
Though still way off the mark in the race for a top-four finish, this victory could prove a statement of intent for the Reds, in what was a remarkable afternoon of top-flight football.
Here are five talking points from Liverpool’s 6-0 win away to Aston Villa.
James Milner Suited to the Wide Role
James Milner’s arrival at Liverpool last summer saw the former Villa midfielder lauded as the ideal replacement to the departing Steven Gerrard; his consistency, quality and experience suggested this was a sensible move by Brendan Rodgers.
But what both player and manager seemingly failed to acknowledge was where Milner’s quality truly lies.
This is something that Klopp has worked to uncover, and with the 30-year-old now regularly stationed on the flanks of the German’s 4-2-3-1 formation, his performances have undoubtedly improved.
Milner’s industry allowed Liverpool to push ex-Reds loanee Aly Cissokho back into the defensive sector, magnifying the left-back’s flaws, and his delivery from wide areas proved invaluable.
With two goals and three assists in his last six Premier League appearances—all coming on the wing—Milner seems to have rediscovered his best position under Klopp.
Coutinho-Firmino-Sturridge Trio Primed For Success
With Milner performing efficiently in his role on the right-hand side of Klopp’s 4-2-3-1, all eyes were on his attacking colleagues, and Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge all impressed.
Coutinho was at his creative best, complete with no-look passes and incisive one-touch play, and with Firmino dropping into the No. 10 role on Sturridge’s return, the trio’s fluid attacking play overwhelmed a flimsy Villa defence.
That this was the first time Coutinho, Firmino and Sturridge had been deployed alongside each other is a testament to their individual quality.
More encouraging is that this trio—fitness pending—will continue to develop an understanding, and supporters can look forward to more effective displays from Liverpool’s attacking line.
In Coutinho, Firmino and Sturridge, Liverpool have a set of genuine, top-level forwards, able to thrive in a number of roles and systems; Klopp will now build around this quality, and should reap the benefits.
New Goalscoring Record a Sign of the Times for Klopp’s Liverpool
Remarkably, Kolo Toure’s 71st-minute header was a record breaker: with the Ivorian adding his name to the scoresheet, among five others, Liverpool’s number of unique goalscorers for the season reached 19—the most in the club’s long and storied history.
Aside from regular fixtures such as Sturridge and Coutinho, Toure is among the more obscure names on this list, joining the likes of Brad Smith, Sheyi Ojo and Jerome Sinclair.
Although Klopp called for more goals from other areas of the field shortly after his arrival as Liverpool manager, this is likely far from what he expected.
Instead, this wide-ranging list of goalscorers is indicative of Liverpool’s confused 2015/16 campaign, with both Rodgers and Klopp utilising a number of fringe figures out of necessity.
No doubt Klopp would prefer a single, 20-goal striker, and with Sturridge returning to the fold, the German can now look for stability in his squad—and more consistent, goalscoring success.
Stewart Debut Hints at Long-Term Role
At 22 years old and with muted loan spells with Cheltenham Town, Burton Albion and Swindon Town to his name, Kevin Stewart seemed unlikely to make an impression at Liverpool—despite signed a new, long-term contract at the beginning of 2015/16.
But having shone at the base of Klopp’s midfield in FA Cup encounters with Exeter City and West Ham, the former Tottenham Hotspur man was rewarded with a place on the substitutes’ bench at Villa Park.
With Liverpool 5-0 up and cruising, the German was able to bring Stewart on, replacing the impressive Coutinho, marking a significant milestone in the boyhood Red’s development.
Though Villa offered little in the way of resistance, Stewart performed with maturity and composure alongside Milner and Jordan Henderson in the midfield.
That he didn’t look out of place will have been encouraging for Klopp, who can now look to utilise Stewart throughout 2015/16 and—if he continues to impose himself—beyond.
Travelling Kop Produces Perfect Response to Ticket U-Turn
Their first outing since Fenway Sport Group’s decision to overturn their heavily criticised new ticketing structure, the onus was on the Liverpool support to build on their passionate showing in last Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Sunderland.
That day, 10,000 supporters walked out of Anfield in protest of the club’s perceived greed, and while a considerably smaller group were able to make the trip to Villa Park, their contribution was vital.
A packed away end in good voice after that goal. #LFC @thisisanfield @br_uk pic.twitter.com/ehPO9YpFqw
— Jack Lusby (@jacklusby_) February 14, 2016
With much of the home support leaving the ground after just 58 minutes on Emre Can’s strike—Liverpool’s third—the travelling Kop’s calls echoed around Villa Park.
This show of passion and unwavering support is just why John W. Henry and Tom Werner will have been attracted to the club on a personal, fanatical level; long may it continue.
ASTON VILLA 0-6 LIVERPOOL
- REPORT: Coutinho and Sturridge inspire Villa Park rout
- FAN REACTIONS: With a fit squad, this is what we’re capable of
- PLAYER REACTIONS: “Beautiful victory”
- PLAYER RATINGS: Coutinho takes man of the match
- TACTICS: Reds close to Klopp’s attacking vision
- PRESS CONFERENCE: Watch Klopp post-match