The last time Villa won at Anfield was September 2001. Steven Gerrard, so often the player that Liverpool look to in order to change the outcome of a match was sent off that day for a reckless lunge on George Boateng. Villa went on to secure a 1-3 victory, the same scoreline that they inflicted last night.
I watched the match in the pub with a Chelsea fan last night. Fair to say we were both pretty chuffed with the result. He turned to me after the game and said something along the lines of, “How can Villa go from getting thumped 5-0 here last season to putting in a display like that tonight?” And every Villa fan would tell you it all boils down to formations.
For those that don’t know, we reverted back to the 5 man midfield that served us so well last season. Sidwell, Petrov and Reo-Coker excelled. They were snapping into tackles for fun, time and time again breaking up everything Liverpool had to offer.
As was the case in 2001 Gerrard was the key player last night for me. He destroyed us last season, scoring a hat trick from his free role behind Torres. Last season we played Heskey and Carew up top; as a consequence Gerrard was allowed the freedom of Anfield and revelled in acres of space.
Thank the lord MON learnt from that humiliation. Last night Gabby tirelessly led the line on his own. Allowing our three central midfielders to suffocate Gerrrard’s creativity. Remove Gerrard from the equation and you effectively remove Torres too. There’s no doubting his ability but good players can only perform when they have the ball at their feet.
Are Liverpool going to miss Alonso this season? They chalked two defeats in the entirety of last season; this was their second loss in three matches. I’ll let you decide that one. Put it this way, I’m delighted that our plan B isn’t to throw on Voronin and Babel in order to save a game.
So with Gerrard hamstrung, Liverpool usually look to their full backs for inspiration going forward. James and Ashley might not have had much joy bombing down the wings last night but my word they did a job. They shackled Insua and Johnson totally nullifying their threat, something Stoke failed to do last week and they duly paid the price.
It was a night of frustration for the hosts. A particular highlight was watching Reina spazz out because he felt we shouldn’t have had a corner only to be picking the ball out of the net 20 seconds later. Or watching Reo-Coker’s magnificent engine burst him into the opposition box with 75 minutes on the clock only to be scythed down by captain marvel himself. All in all, I think it’s fair to say it’s a night Villa fans will remember for a wee while yet.
So MON learnt from the drubbing last year. The intriguing question for me now will be answered on Sunday at home to Fulham. Will he learn from the mistakes made against Wigan? We looked frail against Wigan. The midfield offered little protection for the back four and we looked vulnerable without the ball. Last night the 5 man midfield looked organised and disciplined without the ball.
Ironically, as seems to be the case at present, it was Carew’s back injury last season that forced MON’s hand in to using the 5 man midfield regularly. I think it’s time to accept that this formation needn’t be viewed as negative at home. Fulham will be a different story to Liverpool. They will sit back more, but this will enable Milner, Ashley and Sidwell to push forward. Usually they’d rely on the pace of Andy Johnson to stretch us on the break. Unfortunately for them he’s injured.
My Chelsea mate has a philosophy each season. If you can match the results you got last season and improve on some of the poorer results then you’ll obviously do better than the season before. Home to Wigan and away at Liverpool got us 1 point last season. So far we are on 3. We drew 0-0 home to Fulham, so another 3 points would put us well up on last season’s efforts.
It’s time to stop this pathetic booing and properly get behind the boys. Starting with Vienna on Thursday. I for one just hope that MON sees the clear benefits of playing that 5 man midfield consistently this season. It’s not negative, it’s simply effective.