So who needs Luis Suarez? Well, that may be stretching the point a little (okay, quite a lot) but Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers would have been breathing a huge sigh of relief last weekend, not to mention wondering what his players have been doing all season.
All year Liverpool have struggled, with varying degrees of toil, to score goals in the Premier League and when Suarez was booked against Southampton, rendering him suspended for the Reds’ trip to West Ham United on Sunday, few gave Rodgers’ side chance against a Hammers outfit that have been strong at Upton Park.
And while it might have been a strange old game with twists and turns and some odd goings-on – Joe Cole scored, for crying out loud – Liverpool eventually prevailed 3-2 to show that there is life without Suarez after all and it is a win that has put a spring in the step of a squad that has been carrying far too many passengers for far too long (did I mention Joe Cole?).
It has left some people connected with the club to murmur about a push for the Champions League places, with Liverpool just four points off the elusive fourth place with a run of what a side with top-four ambitions might call ‘winnable fixtures’ on the horizon.
But Liverpool aren’t a top side, not by any stretch, and even if the overall poor standard of the division means that fourth place looks up for grabs more than ever this year, the Reds aren’t good enough to take advantage.
Not at the moment, anyway, though Rodgers will be hoping that FSG back him with funds in January in a manner they failed to spectacularly over the summer.
But as it is, an uneven, thin and patchy squad has only just made it into the top half, so let’s put the brakes on talk of a top-four finish. That said, the Merseysiders are on a decent little run as Rodgers looks to be putting a mark on the side after a difficult start.
For the first time since Bob Paisley was in charge, Liverpool have won three matches on the bounce (okay, since September 2011) and have lost just one of their last ten league matches, an unfortunate loss at Tottenham Hotspur, and it is a reasonable sequence that means when Aston Villa visit Anfield on Saturday, Rodgers will be demanding three points.
The odds show as much. Liverpool are 17/50 to win, with the draw at 7/2 and Villa priced up at 35/4, and there would have been a time this year when I would have been looking to oppose Liverpool, especially at those odds, but at the risk of getting carried away I think they look a solid bet to win this one.
Villa are in a little mini-run of their own, unbeaten in the last five matches in all competitions, although somebody could do with telling Paul Lambert that matches in the Capital One Cup don’t count towards their league form.
While his side have been brilliant in the League Cup, reaching the semi-finals with a great 4-1 win over his former club Norwich in midweek, they have been poor in the league and are currently out of the relegation zone on goal difference alone.
Much was made of Lambert’s appointment, especially among excited Villa fans, but he has been given one hell of a tough job and his squad of young players and underachieving senior pros have underperformed.
And in truth, I don’t expect them to get anything at Anfield. They normally don’t – Villa have won just one in ten away to Liverpool – and after enduring a poor run at home in 2012, there are signs that the tide is turning for the Reds.
After winning just three league games at Anfield all year, Liverpool are unbeaten in their last five home league matches, winning three without conceding and keeping a further clean sheet in a draw with Stoke City, and the 11/10 that they beat Villa to nil is a fine bet.
The Villans’ will be buoyed by their win over Norwich, but five points against Stoke, Reading and Queens Park Rangers is not a great haul, and, in the league at least, Villa remain incredibly shot-shy.
The statistics are brutal. No side has scored fewer than Villa’s paltry 12 goals in 16 games, with just four of those coming away from home. Lambert’s team have scored just two goals in the last five league games and their away form is also pitiful.
Since beating Wolves in January, Villa have won just one of their 16 league fixtures (at Sunderland), losing nine games and failing to score on nine occasions.
And with Suarez back in the side, Liverpool should be too strong and the 11/10 on a home win and clean sheet looks a great bet to me.