December 6th, 2010 – Liverpool 3 – 0 Aston Villa (Anfield)
It’s that time of the week again where we look back at the good and bad (but mostly good!) moments in Liverpool’s history.
On this day eight years ago Gerard Houllier made an emotional return to Anfield as manager of Aston Villa. This would be a rare bright occasion in the living nightmare that was the infamous ‘Hodgson era’.
Believe me, it pains me to bring it back up just as much as I’m sure it pains you to be reminded of this bleak time in Liverpool’s history.
Liverpool were in the bottom half going into this game but a win would put the Reds in eighth on the back of three successive home victories. On paper, Liverpool looked vulnerable with Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher both absent from the squad.
Fernando Torres would also miss out on selection at the last minute as his wife went into labour. She successfully gave birth to a baby boy. ‘El Niño’ had a ‘niño’ of his own, if you like.
Despite key players on Liverpool’s behalf missing, they swept aside Houllier’s Villa with consummate ease. Make-shift strikeforce David N’Gog and Ryan Babel would prove formidable as both scored within the first 20 minutes to get Liverpool off to a flyer before Maxi Rodriguez wrapped up the points in the second half.
Another impressive performance from Babel in particular, continuing where he left off in Bucharest the previous Thursday, leaving him firmly in Hodgson’s good graces. The Liverpool midfield of Raul Meireles and Lucas Leiva stamped their authority on proceedings in the middle of the park and set a tempo Villa simply couldn’t live with.
The Reds showed a ruthlessness that was clearly missing eight days prior at White Hart Lane where they paid the price for failing to turn pressure into goals.
After Dirk Kuyt had already gone close, the opener deservedly arrived in the 14th minute when Martin Skrtel (making his 100th appearance in a Liverpool shirt) headed Meireles’ corner goalwards for N’Gog to nod home from close range. This would be the Frenchman’s eighth goal of the campaign but his first since September.
Two minutes later it would go from bad to worse for the Villains. Lucas played a delightfully clipped pass for Babel to run on to. Babel still had plenty to do but he hooked the shot past former-Red Brad Friedel with such precision into the far corner that he made it look easy.
As if the finish wasn’t stylish enough, the celebration consisted of a double somersault. The Reds were flying and Sotirios Kyrgiakos (absolute nightmare to type) should have added a third but nodded wastefully over.
It wasn’t completely comfortable as sloppy errors from Skrtel and Paul Konchesky handed opportunities to Villa but the lack of quality was so apparent as they failed to take advantage.
The home side’s work rate was outstanding as Villa never had a moment to rest on the ball and were constantly pressured into conceding possession. After being booed off in what was a dismal first half for Villa, they briefly threatened in the second half with Pepe Reina producing a smart save to deny Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Speaking of Reina, this would be a record breaking night for him as he would become the quickest goalkeeper in the club’s history to clock up 100 league clean sheets. This was his 198th game and he comfortably beat the record previously set by Ray Clemence who achieved the feat in 217 league games.
The celebrations wouldn’t end there for the Spaniard as he played his part in a blistering counter attack in the 55th minute where the game was put to bed. Reina’s throw found Rodriguez who released N’Gog down the left. Already bagging today, the Frenchman returned the favour to Rodriguez in the box who clinically finished past Friedel with aplomb.
The scoreline would favour Villa, as Glen Johnson was later denied by a great save by Friedel and Kyrgiakos saw his header cleared off the line by Jonathan Hogg. Despite the warm welcome, this would be a miserable outing for Gerard Houllier as the Reds returned to the top half of the table.
DAVID N’GOG 14’
RYAN BABEL 16’
MAXI RODRIGUEZ 55’