Liverpool 1 Aston Villa 3
If Liverpool’s loyal but increasingly long-suffering supporters needed a stark example of their club’s fall from football grace, it was provided in 50 devastating minutes by Aston Villa forwards Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann.
It was not simply an emphatic home defeat that will have ruined more than one Merseyside Christmas. After all, any mid-table Premier League side — and that’s what Liverpool are on a good day currently — can lose a home game, even to struggling opponents like Villa. Nor was it the timing of this loss, just 24 hours after Anfield manager Brendan Rodgers claimed his team should be aiming as high as second this season, that cut to the bone.
No, the real devastating impact of this loss was provided by the fact that Rodgers was forced to admit after it that many of his obviously exhausted stars, such as teenage winger Raheem Sterling and midfielder Joe Allen, cannot currently be rewarded with a rest because of the lack of quality in the Liverpool squad.
Compare and contrast with opposite number Paul Lambert. For much of this season, the new Villa manager has faced intense public scrutiny from pundits and supporters alike who cannot understand how he can consistently leave out experienced forward Darren Bent in favour of youngsters such as Benteke and Weimann.
Here was the answer as Liverpool’s defence had no answer to Villa’s slick counter-attacking, the power and pace of two-goal Benteke, the guile and mobility of 21-year-old Weimann.
Weimann had netted twice in the midweek League Cup win at Norwich that carried Villa through to the semis and was on the receiving end of a brilliant Benteke back heel to grab number two at Anfield.
The Austrian was one of six Villa academy products in the winning team against Liverpool, with a further three players aged just 22 and with Bent out injured until the new year with a hamstring problem, on this form the best the former Spurs star can look forward to at Villa Park is a bit-part role, if any.
“Obviously for myself it is great to play with someone like Christian,” said Weimann. “He wins the ball and holds it up and is scoring goals as well.
“You’ve seen that the last few weeks he has been outstanding for us. He is such a physical presence.
“I obviously want to stay in the team and I feel we’ve worked well in the past few games. I hope it can be a breakthrough season for me. I’ve played a lot of football lately and that’s the first time I’ve really been doing that regularly with the first team, to get that many games.”
Benteke was given the room to shoot in from 20 yards just before the half hour while the second Villa goal, before the break, was a breathtaking move with Benteke’s amazing back heel setting up Weimann to convert from 12 yards. The third showed all Benteke’s speed and power as he surged half the length of the field before converting from six yards. Yes, Steven Gerrard pulled back a last-gasp consolation and yes, Liverpool should have had a penalty, at 2-0 down, when Ciaran Clark tugged Daniel Agger’s shirt. But this was a victory every bit as emphatic as the scoreline appears and one which left the Liverpool manager confessing that despite — or, perhaps, because of — a recent good run, a number of players are in desperate need of rest.
“I think there are others we need to give a break but there is no doubt Raheem is one who does need that breather,” said Rodgers.
“In order to do that you need to have that depth to take him out and put somebody else in. That’s something I’m thinking about — who to put in. He’s a naturally very, very fit boy but he needs that mental rest as well. There is no doubt, after working with Joe and seeing him, he’s another one. If we’re honest, there are a few who could do with that breather, especially mentally. It’s something for sure I need to have a wee look at.”
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Reina 5; Johnson 5, Skrtel 5, Agger 4, Downing 7; Allen 5, Lucas 5 (Henderson 60, 5), Gerrard 6; Shelvey 5 (Cole 46, 5), Sterling 6, Shelvey 5.
ASTON VILLA (4-3-1-2): Guzan 7; Herd 8, Clark 7, Baker 7, Lichaj 7; Lowton 7, Westwood 8, Bannan 8 (El Ahmadi 85); Holman 7 (Delph 69, 6); Benteke 9, Weimann 8 (N’Zogbia 90).
Referee: N. Swarbrick 5.
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