Daniel Sturridge inspires Liverpool in an emphatic win at Aston Villa
Liverpool finally located their shooting boots and scored six without reply against an abject Aston Villa.
The rout was begun by Daniel Sturridge, whose mere presence seemed to galvanise the visitors, and his calmly-taken opening goal was followed by strikes from James Milner, Emre Can, Divock Origi, Nathaniel Clyne and Kolo Toure.
Enthusiasm should probably be tempered by the quality of opposition, who now look certain to be relegated, but other weak sides have managed to make life difficult for the Reds before now. This was an excellent display, which featured several impressive individual performances.
Player ratings: (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Simon Mignolet, 7 -- One of the easiest games the Belgian will ever have, yet he still made a good save on the hour mark when it was 3-0. Given that his mistake against Sunderland caused a desperate collapse last week, his one quality moment on Sunday counted for a lot.
DF Nathan Clyne, 9 -- Early forward runs showed the English international's intent from the off but, after the Reds' two first-half goals he reverted back to his rock-solid defending to help secure the points. Once Liverpool made the game safe, he began to rampage forward again and was rewarded with an opportunistic goal from a few yards out. Still getting into the Villa box by the 90th minute, this was his best game of the season.
DF Kolo Toure, 8 -- Typical no-nonsense performance from the Ivorian that was rewarded with an unlikely goal from a corner. It will be a sad day when one of the game's great characters has to retire but for now he looks ageless. Rarely tested defensively, but solid when needed.
DF Mamadou Sakho, 7 -- Can often have an absent-minded few minutes and charged out a few times when staying back might have been the better option. Much more disciplined and focused in the second half, especially once the visitors began to run away with the game.
DF Alberto Moreno, 7 -- Little to do defensively, he linked up well with Philippe Coutinho to create numerous moments of danger. This game provided him with everything he'd want, with far less emphasis on his defensive frailties. There were a couple of problems late on but by then the game was well over.
MF Emre Can, 8 -- Concentrating on holding duties for the first half, he killed the game with his energetic disruption of Villa's play and scored the vital third goal -- from a move he started -- with a clinical finish. Still going by the end of the game and determined to make sure Liverpool kept a clean sheet, though the game was long since won.
MF Jordan Henderson, 7 -- The captain has been out of sorts since his return from injury but this was a much-improved display, thanks largely to his contribution going forward, which has always been key to his all-round game. Unlucky not to score in the first half, he kept his team fully motivated though the result was rarely in doubt.
MF James Milner, 8 -- Scored from a free kick which baffled the Villa defenders and goalkeeper, while his discipline and work rate were excellent. Throwing himself into defensive duties late on with a 6-0 score line was consummate professionalism.
MF Philippe Coutinho, 8 -- Supplied a pinpoint cross for the opener, he stayed out on the left but managed to torment the home side on numerous occasions. He has been a big miss for Jurgen Klopp and was wisely replaced when the game was over as a contest.
MF Roberto Firmino, 8 -- Almost a replica of his Brazilian teammate's display, he provided intriguing flicks and pinched the ball off Villa on many occasions. Not everything he tried came off, but his presence was vital. He is starting to get the feel of English football, though he'll rarely have an easier afternoon than this.
FW Daniel Sturridge, 7 -- It took him 15 minutes to get on the score sheet with a simple but sweetly-taken header. He seemed physically tentative, which was understandable, but some quality touches made him far too difficult for Villa to handle. Denied a second by a good save, Sturridge's mere presence fills the rest of the team with confidence. Wisely replaced on the hour mark, because Liverpool desperately need him to stay fit.
FW Divock Origi, 7 -- Though his appearance was merely to help rest Sturridge, he scored almost immediately with an intelligent run and calm finish. Didn't do much after that, but then he didn't have to.
MF Kevin Stewart, 6 -- The sub provided rest for another player coming back from injury, this time Coutinho. Booked late on for a tough challenge, but there was little to do after that. Putting him on was Klopp's way of showing how impressed he'd been by the youngster's FA Cup displays.
FW Christian Benteke, NR -- Brought on at 6-0, sadly when the game was petering out and Liverpool weren't as committed to attack as before.
Steven Kelly writes about Liverpool for ESPN FC and has a weekly Liverpool column for The Irish Examiner. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.