Liverpool, Aston Villa and a bittersweet Steven Gerrard connection

As Liverpool host Aston Villa in this season’s Anfield farewell, Brad Walker reflects on a unique shared connection with Steven Gerrard.

Liverpool look to close their final home match of the season on a high this weekend as Unai Emery’s Aston Villa head to Anfield.

The Reds harbour feint hopes of securing a Champions League spot for next season, despite a strange campaign which has seen them lose nine times in 36 matches.

Both clubs are backed by a wealth of history in this fixture, with the Reds winning 32 games compared to Villa’s 13 in the Premier League era.

Ten more matches have been drawn between the pair since the new league format was launched in 1992.

Though it is a fixture most associated with Liverpool reflect fondly on, one man doesn’t quite share the rose-tinted glasses enjoyed by his Scouse counterparts.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 5, 2021: Aston Villa's manager Steven Gerrard (L) celebrates with double goal-scorer Ezri Konsa after the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Leicester City FC at Villa Park. Aston Villa won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Mentioning Steven Gerrard in the same breath as Villa will, particularly to fans of a younger age, immediately conjure memories of his recent stint as manager for the Midlands’ most successful club.

Understandably so: Gerrard was at the Villa helm for under 13 months before he was dismissed at the end of last year.

Despite a positive start which saw four wins in his first six games, form began to curtail with his side only winning two of their opening 12 Premier League matches at the start of this season.

Gerrard was unable to replicate the success he enjoyed at Rangers, where he delivered the club their 55th league title in 2020/21, and was shown the exit door in October.

The sky wasn’t always so gloomy when Villa and Gerrard were concerned, however – he was most prolific against the Villans during his playing days and regularly sank a dagger into claret-and-blue hearts.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 22, 2009: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard MBE celebrates scoring his side's third goal against Aston Villa from the penalty spot during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A total of 13 goals in 27 matches was more than Gerrard managed against any other side, and he even registered his first Premier League hat-trick against the Midlanders during a 5-0 romp in March 2009.

Back then, the Reds were challenging fierce rivals Man United for the domestic crown and sent a strong message to their north-west counterparts as they dispatched Villa in front of a sell-out Anfield crowd.

Villa were chasing a spot among the Champions League places but were no match for Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool, who headed into the match on the back of a statement 4-1 away victory at Old Trafford the previous week.

Gerrard dispatched two penalties as well as a well-placed, driven free-kick at the Kop end to secure his first match ball for his boyhood club.

Although the game stands out as Gerrard’s most enjoyable against the team he would go on to manage 12 years later, his exploits against Villa began much earlier.

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard shrugs his shoulders after scoring a spectacular goal vs. Southampton, January 2001, Anfield (Nick Potts/EMPICS Sport)

His first goal was delivered on a plate by Danny Murphy in January 2001, as Gerrard slid to ensure he met the left-footed cross with his own right boot.

Liverpool emerged 3-0 winners at Villa Park that day, and it wouldn’t be long until Gerrard bagged his second against Villa.

Only eight months, in fact, as the buzzcut-sporting Scouser bagged his first home goals against Villa, heading in Gary McAllister’s corner to cancel out Dion Dublin’s first-half opener.

The goal wasn’t enough to prevent the away side from banking all three points thanks to further goals by Lee Hendrie and Darius Vassell, but was a sign of things to come as Gerrard continued to mature into one of the league’s greatest-ever midfielders.

His third came 15 months later as Liverpool grabbed a 4-3 win on the road in the West Midlands, while an 84th-minute penalty another 15 months on saw Gerrard bag his fourth.

While his hat-trick in 2009 springs to mind as his most successful game against Villa, his long-range goal in front of the Kop in 2006 stands out as his most memorable.

BOLTON, ENGLAND - MONDAY, JANUARY 2nd, 2006: Liverpool's Steven Gerrard celebrates scoring the equalising goal from the penalty spot during the Premiership match against Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Having already bagged his first of the game to put Liverpool 2-1 up from a Xabi Alonso corner, the ball fell to the No. 8 as the game approached the 66th-minute mark.

Taking one touch to steady himself, Gerrard briefly noted the location of the goal before rocketing the ball into the top left-hand corner from 30 yards.

Renowned for his long-range scoring efforts for club and country, the goal remains high among his greatest ever in a red shirt.

His next came on the opening day of the 2007/08 season, as Gerrard rifled an 87th-minute free-kick in front of the Doug Ellis Stand to secure a 2-1 win for his side.

The hat-trick in 2009 followed before Gerrard slotted his three final goals against Villa.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 19, 2015: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard leads his side out to face Aston Villa during the FA Cup Semi-Final match at Wembley Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The first came late in a 3-1 Anfield defeat under new manager Brendan Rodgers in December 2012, while a 60th-minute penalty at Villa Park secured another 2-1 Liverpool win four months later.

Gerrard got his name on the scoresheet for a final time against the Midlanders when his 53rd-minute penalty saw the Reds come back from 2-0 down at Anfield to earn a 2-2 home draw during Rodgers’ side’s 2013/14 title charge.

Though he appeared three times against Villa in his final season for the Reds in 2014/15, Gerrard couldn’t manage a goal, as his side initially suffered a 1-0 defeat at Anfield before Fabio Borini and Ricky Lambert goals earned Liverpool a 2-0 away win in January.

His last game against his future club came in April that season, as Tim Sherwood’s Villa came from behind to defeat Liverpool 2-1 in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 16, 2015: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard arrives at Anfield ahead of his final home game for the Reds before the Premier League game against Crystal Palace at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

After 17 successful years for his home club, Gerrard set sails for Los Angeles, making 34 appearances for LA Galaxy before announcing his retirement in November 2016.

Despite his 13-month tenure at Villa Park, the 42-year-old will no doubt be backing his boyhood club to defeat Emery’s Villa this weekend as they continue to hunt down Newcastle and Man United for a spot in the Champions League.

The Reds will also bid farewell to two club legends in James Milner and, if fit, Roberto Firmino, who will make their final appearances at Anfield after eight illustrious years on Merseyside.

* This is a guest article for This Is Anfield by Brad Walker. Follow Brad on Twitter, @brad_TWalker.