Sturridge’s stunning brace takes some pressure off Rodgers
Daniel Sturridge scored his first goals since March as Liverpool edged Aston Villa 3-2 in the Premier League on Saturday to ease the pressure on manager Brendan Rodgers.
James Milner opened the scoring with an early goal, but there was no hint of the second-half drama to follow, which saw Sturridge and Villa’s Rudy Gestede score two goals each inside 12 minutes.
After 59 minutes, Sturridge exchanged passes with Milner before unleashing a magnificent 16-yard volley past Brad Guzan to double the home team’s lead.
That quality of finishing has been sadly lacking from the Liverpool line-up during Sturridge’s absence with a hip injury, but it took just seven minutes for them to demonstrate that even if that area of their game has improved, they are still defensively weak.
Alan Hutton’s right-wing cross exposed an absence of defenders in the home area and Gestede was able to scramble the ball in from close range.
Within a minute, Sturridge had restored the two-goal cushion, this time exchanging passes with Philippe Coutinho, whose back-heel allowed him the time and space to choose his spot and steer in another expert finish.
Again, Liverpool were found wanting in defence, Gestede leaping to convert Jordan Amavi’s left-wing cross with a fantastic header, but the home side held on for a first league win in five matches.
Given the build-up to the fixture, and the growing pressure upon Rodgers following Wednesday’s penalty shootout win over fourth-tier Carlisle United in the League Cup, it was hardly the most convincing of performances.
But Milner had given them a perfect start with just 66 seconds on the clock.
Coutinho found the England midfielder in a central position, 20 yards from goal, and with the visitors inexplicably backing off, Milner sent an excellent left-foot shot skidding past the dive of Guzan.
It was his first goal since joining from Manchester City during the close season.
After scoring just four goals in their opening six games, their worst such opening to a campaign in a decade, the early opener was much needed, but the remainder of the first half would see Liverpool fail to add to it.
Indeed, the better chances arguably fell to the visitors. After just six minutes, Amavi’s left-wing cross found the towering Gestede, whose powerful header flew just off target.
Halfway through the half, Hutton’s cross was poorly headed clear by Emre Can, directly to Gestede, who hurriedly shot wide.
Then, having shown strength and determination to win a loose ball, Hutton caused panic with a cross, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet punching meekly to Ashley Westwood, who saw his shot deflected behind.
There was more uncertainty in the home defence as Nathaniel Clyne gifted the ball to Scott Sinclair and must have been relieved when the Villa winger shot tamely at Mignolet.
For all their advantage in possession, Liverpool had struggled to create noteworthy chances, but they opened the second period with a more direct approach and soon had Villa on the defensive.
Clyne almost netted a rebound before Amavi made an important block, before the flurry of goals arrived that would decide the game.
Thereafter, a Coutinho free-kick was saved superbly by Guzan, the same Liverpool man shot directly at the goalkeeper from the edge of the area and Villa might have snatched an equaliser when Micah Richards headed over.
As Villa pressed for an equaliser, gaps began to appear in their defence and Sturridge would have had a hat-trick had it not been for a last-gasp Richards challenge and another Guzan save.