Daniel Sturridge helps Liverpool rout Aston Villa as Remi Garde's men look doomed
There will come a day, some time in the spring, when Aston Villa are relegated from the Premier League. When it comes, it is hard to imagine it can feel any worse than yesterday did for those who hold this once proud club dear.
Villa's capitulation against Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool, their heaviest home loss since 1935, was so much more than an embarrassing addition to the record books; in front of a half-empty stadium, it was the sounding of a death knell for their top-flight status.
The mathematics tell us Villa can still avoid a first relegation since 1987 but as the goals flew past goalkeeper Mark Bunn they looked dead and buried already. With six different Liverpool scorers, this was a proper St Valentine's Day massacre.
For all the excellence of the returning Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, it is the spectacle of Villa falling apart that will linger in the memory.
The club's board raised the white flag in January when they did not allow manager Remi Garde a penny to spend on reinforcements.
Yesterday, it was the players' turn as they produced a display described by Garde as "the worst performance I have seen".
Villa are eight points adrift at the foot of the table and Garde, who refused to comment when asked about his future afterwards.
Liverpool's victory lifted them to eighth in the table and will provide an injection of self-belief beforethe Capital One Cup final on 28 February but the gracious Klopp said: "It is not a day to sing songs and that is partly out of respect for Aston Villa, a great club in a difficult situation."
It was the first time Klopp had been able to select Sturridge, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino in a starting XI, but even he must have struggled to believe how easily the goals came. It took only 16 minutes for Villa's defence to unravel. Sturridge got the breakthrough on his first starting appearance since October 4.
Coutinho was the architect as he whipped over a wonderful cross and Sturridge buried his header past Bunn.
Lescott and Aly Cissokho had left Sturridge unmarked and Villa's defending was no better for the second goal. After Jores Okore's unnecessary push on Coutinho, James Milner curled over a free-kick that evaded the heads of Lescott, Okore and Mamadou Sakho and deceived the wrong-footed Bunn.
Jordan Henderson and Sturridge might have added further goals before a half-time whistle greeted by boos from the home crowd and though Leandro Bacuna offered a glimmer of resistance on the restart with a low shot that tested Simon Mignolet, things soon got worse with Liverpool's third goal after 58 minutes. Emre Can seized on Micah Richards' miscontrol 40 yards out and fed Firmino, who squared the ball back to Can. When his precise low strike flew into the bottom corner, it was the cue for Villa to collapse entirely.
Divock Origi added a fourth moments after replacing Sturridge as he raced clear on to Coutinho's angled ball behind the home defence. Nathaniel Clyne made it five as he stabbed the ball in at the second attempt after Bunn had blocked his first shot. To complete the rout, Kolo Touré was left completely unmarked at a corner to head in his first league goal in five years.
One spectator yesterday was Dennis Mortimer, Villa's 1982 European Cup-winning captain.
His verdict was damning. "There is no character on the pitch," he said.
It sounded like a lament for a broken club and after an afternoon like this, who could blame him?