2020 has been, by any measure, a car crash of a year. The entire world has been in the grip of a deadly pandemic which has immeasurably altered and restricted the way we live our lives. Yet, in the midst of all this, Aston Villa have been a beacon of hope, exhilaration, and at times, pure unadulterated joy.
Dean Smith’s men looked beyond redemption when Leicester bulldozed their way through them to record a resounding 4-0 win back in March. As it happened, this would be the last top-flight game prior to an enforced period of absence, and no side would use that time better than Villa. What followed during Project Restart was a remarkable, scarcely believable escape from the jaws of relegation, secured by the skin of their teeth on the final day of last season.
New season, new hope
The new season, as so many do, brought new hope, and the anticipation that after a successful transfer window, Villa’s fortunes would be considerably improved. However, there cannot have been a Villan on the planet who possessed the foresight to predict our blistering start, with the crowning glory being a demolition of the champions at Villa Park.
Sunday 4th October was a bumper day of Premier League action, and as the evening kick-off rolled around, we were still catching our breath from Spurs steamrollering of United at Old Trafford, in a very un-Mourinho like rout. As it happened, that wouldn’t be the result of the day, something very special indeed was about to take place in B6.
Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool
Villa came into the game in good spirits, 6 points from their opening two games giving them a relative level of confidence, there were whispers we could escape with a point.
Liverpool were without their ever-reliable stopper Alisson, replaced by the far more fallible Adrián, whose mistake would set Villa on their way to a result for the ages. Jack Grealish made the most of that initial error by setting up Ollie Watkins, and by half time Watkins had completed the perfect hat-trick as the hosts headed down the tunnel 4-1 to the good.
The first half was good, brilliant even, but surely there was to be a fightback? Surely Liverpool were about to click into gear and begin reeling Villa back in? Not a bit of it.
The second half was a continuation of a direct, athletic, thrilling attacking performance from Villa, Barkley extending the lead on 55 with his first in the famous claret and blue shirt.
Salah reduced the deficit, but Villa were unperturbed. Grealish, as has become the way of things, was sublime, oozing class and leading the charge as more goals flew in. As the full-time whistle blew a look at the Villa Park scoreboard read Aston Villa 7, Liverpool 2.
Jürgen Klopp could be seen mouthing “wow” as he congratulated Dean Smith, a sentiment shared by all who witnessed this truly extraordinary result.
The national media inevitably focussed on where it had all gone wrong for Liverpool. How had the red machine faltered so badly? Why had the irresistible force from Merseyside, that had conquered Europe, the Premier League, the world, been undone by a team that had escaped relegation by the thinnest of margins? The media discourse did a disservice to Villa who had produced a near faultless display to mercilessly punish Liverpool at every opportunity.
This was Smith-ball in full flow, a glorious exhibition of the football the Great Barr Guardiola has brought to Aston. The new recruits validated price tags and confirmed the suspicion that Villa had done some terrific business during the window. Ollie Watkins arrived that night as a Premier League force, his clinical finishing twinned with a relentless work ethic, resulting in the match ball and an assist as the icing on the cake.
The only sour note from this fixture is the absence of fans, a tingle runs down the spine when you imagine the wall of noise which would have reverberated around Villa Park, under the lights, on a night like no other. But let’s not end on a low, I’ll leave you with that moment of brilliance from Captain Jack.