It was a day when Aston Villa were humiliated and Liverpool finally flexed their attacking muscle. Led by the returning Daniel Sturridge, the Reds hit the league’s bottom side for six, inflicting a heaviest ever Premier League defeat at Villa Park.
Sturridge may have been the catalyst but this was a team effort. Liverpool’s pressing style, of which glimpses have been witnessed, was at the fore with the England international, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho picking holes in the Villa defence with ease.
If Sturridge’s opener inside the opening 20 minutes gave a reminder of his talents, the rest of the Reds team also stood up. James Milner scored and provided an assist, Emre Can scored a fine goal from outside the box, Divock Origi had pace and power to score the fastest goal by a substitute this season, Nathaniel Clyne notched his first for the Reds and Kolo Toure scored from a corner. Yes, you read that right, Toure scored and it was from a corner.
This had everything Liverpool fans have craved. The sight of a fit and healthy Sturridge leading the line, Coutinho and Firmino finding space behind, goals from set-pieces and of course a clean sheet.
It was the end of a patchy run of form for Jurgen Klopp’s side with the club finally moving into positive goal difference. There was more however, with just over 20 minutes to go, as Kevin Stewart came on for a deserved Premier League debut.
The former Spurs defender, transformed into a defensive midfielder since moving to Anfield, has had to bide his time and remain patient. Loan spells at Cheltenham, Swindon and Burton Albion failed to excite, and while the helter-skelter of the lower leagues may have toughened him up, they were not the place for what has turned out to be a ball-playing midfielder.
Since making his debut in the 2-2 draw with Exeter, Stewart has not looked back and has been quietly effective and efficient in the subsequent three other FA Cup games in which he has appeared. In the replay against an experienced West Ham side at Upton Park, he showed coolness, calmness and composure on the ball, traits not readily visible in the red of Liverpool this season.
On Sunday it was job done by the time he arrived on the field with Liverpool five up, however there was still time for Stewart to show his range.
A stunning looped pass to Clyne with two minutes on the clock showed the confidence the 22-year-old now has, and while he managed to pick up a yellow for a clumsy challenge, once again he showed plenty of composure on the ball.
Stewart is on his way to becoming Liverpool’s anchor-man in midfield. His situation is similar to that of Francis Coquelin – who similarly struggled on loan in the lower leagues before suddenly grabbing a chance presented to him by Arsenal.
The upcoming Europa League clashes with Augsburg, for which Stewart is ineligible after being left out of the squad at the start of the season, and not one of the three allowed changes submitted in January, and the Capital One Cup final with Manchester City, means that the midfielder will have to wait until March to build on his impressive resurgence but having tasted first team action, he won’t be giving up the dream just yet.