BIRMINGHAM, February 13 – Liverpool ran riot in a 6-0 hammering of Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday as the Premier League’s bottom club went into meltdown.
Daniel Sturridge made a dream return to the visitors’ starting line-up after injury with a 16th-minute opener that set Liverpool on course for a crushing victory.
And Villa then wilted as they slumped to their heaviest home defeat of the post-1992 Premier League era to slide closer to relegation, ending the day eight points adrift of the safety line.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool produced a slick display to claim a first win in six games in all competitions.
There were six different goalscorers as James Milner, Emre Can, Divock Origi, Nathaniel Clyne and Kolo Toure added to Sturridge’s effort.
However, the home side helped with a feeble display that saw thousands of fans head for the exits with less than an hour played as four goals in 14 second-half minutes set Liverpool on course for a huge win.
Those that remained turned on owner Randy Lerner with chants against the American, while Liverpool’s comprehensive win took them eighth in the table, just three points behind Manchester United in the Europa League place.
For Sturridge, who played for Villa as a schoolboy, it was the perfect way to mark his first league start since October following a series of injury setbacks.
Villa had enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, passing the ball neatly and crisply.
But they failed to create even a half-chance to test Simon Mignolet in the Liverpool goal and paid the price when Sturridge opened the scoring.
The forward ghosted between Villa defenders Joleon Lescott and Aly Cissokho, who failed to track his run.
That left him with the simple task of heading home Philippe Coutinho’s delicious cross from around six yards out.
Villa’s approach play remained encouraging, but Mignolet made a simple catch from a Jores Okore header before Ashley Westwood tried his luck from distance with a shot that flew well wide.
– Ironic cheers –
Liverpool, however, continued to pose the greater threat in possession and a set-piece brought the second goal on 25 minutes.
Okore was guilty of conceding a needless free-kick on the Villa right and Milner’s delivery evaded everyone, including goalkeeper Mark Bunn, and nestled inside the far post.
It owed much to fortune, but from that moment Villa caved in.
The Merseysiders ought to have added to their lead on the half-hour when Villa’s shell-shocked defenders gifted them another chance.
Milner was given time and space for a cushioned header from a cross by Roberto Firmino, but Jordan Henderson saw his low drive deflected wide off Okore.
Liverpool began to take control with Bunn saving a shot by Firmino and then, a minute before half-time, diving to his right to pull off a better save from a curling effort by Sturridge.
Early in the second half Leandro Bacuna cut in from the flank for Villa, but his tame shot was held at the second attempt by Mignolet.
Villa imploded again in the 58th minute when Can started and finished the move for Liverpool’s third goal.
Bacuna’s awful first touch allowed Can to win possession and feed Firmino before continuing his run, receiving the Brazilian’s pull-back and hammering home a shot from the edge of the area.
It was 4-0 five minutes later when Coutinho’s fine pass exploited a Villa defence in disarray and Origi controlled the ball with his first touch of the game and finished with his second.
Clyne added the fifth by forcing home the rebound after Bunn saved his initial shot in a goalmouth scramble.
And Villa’s embarrassment deepened when they gave Toure a free header on 71 minutes to nod home a Henderson cross for 6-0.
Thousands of seats had emptied by the 80th minute, but the Villa fans that remained mustered ironic cheers as substitute Scott Sinclair played a one-two with Lescott and curled a shot against the woodwork.