The fans were chanting the name of Gerard Houiller long into a cold winter’s night at Anfield, but the fact it was the Liverpool supporters rather than the Villa faithful speaks volumes about the visiting side’s performance.
Liverpool, without key trio Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Fernando Torres, strolled a 3-0 win that lifted them back into the top half of the table and left Villa floundering in 16th place.
It was an unhappy return to Anfield for Houllier, who managed the club for six years between 1998 and 2004 and remains popular with the reds support.
It wasn’t just the defeat but the manner of it that will worry the Frenchman though. A weakened Liverpool side barely had to break a sweat from the moment they took the lead in the 14th minute. Villa’s lack of fight was alarming to say the least.
This was the Midlands club’s fourth defeat in a row, and with only one win in their last ten league games they are now just two points off the drop zone and the Premier League tips even hint they could be relegated.
After several seasons sat comfortably in the top six Villa fans had hope this would be the year they finally put up a sustained challenge for the champions league places. But Martin O’Neill’s shock resignation a week before the new season left their plans in disarray and Houiller’s arrival has signalled a period of transition, even if the Premier League betting predictions suggested they’d do well.
Just four wins all year though is not the return chairman Randy Lerner will have wanted when he brought the former Lyon boss to the club in September and if they are not careful they could be sucked into a relegation battle.
A nightmare season for Liverpool was capped off by the eventual departure of manager Rafa Benitez last week.
Opinion remains divided on the success of the Spaniard’s tenure at Anfield. With many critics pointing to his mistakes in the transfer market and strange tactical decisions as key reasons for Liverpool’s demise this season.
While it is true Rafa made some errors, particularly in the past 12 months, they were far outweighed by his earlier achievements – most notably his Champions League win in 2005 – as well as the failures at board-room level where owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have dealt in broken promises, burdening the club with debt and crushing the morale of a large and loyal fan base.
The Championship play-off final, with a place in the Premier League for the winner, is widely considered to be the richest game in English football, with the boost to the triumphant side’s finances through TV deals and increased revenue estimated to be around £60 million.
However, with the advent of the Champions League a whole new set of riches is on offer for clubs at the top of the Premier League. For many years it was restricted to the same four teams, Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.