Liverpool will not get a Boxing Day reunion with Steven Gerrard following his Aston Villa dismissal. Jürgen Klopp will need to be wary of a resultant change.
Christmas is a time for family, and so Liverpool may be a little disappointed not to be able to receive the hospitality of Steven Gerrard on Boxing Day. The club legend is no longer at the helm of Aston Villa, meaning Jürgen Klopp will instead be shaking the hand of Unai Emery.
The Spaniard is no stranger himself, with Liverpool having faced his Villarreal side in the Champions League last season, as well as both Arsenal and Sevilla before that. On most of those occasions, his teams have presented Klopp with a stern test — and with the greatest respect to Gerrard, his appointment has surely made Aston Villa a more daunting prospect.
Liverpool will be desperate to get a win, having been forced to take a six-week break just as they began to build some momentum in the Premier League. But Klopp has at least had plenty of time to plot his game-plan and will be confident in his team’s ability to pick up where they left off.
In order to achieve that, there is one threat in particular that Klopp needs to have on his radar. Even with Gerrard gone, there is a very real risk that Liverpool could be haunted by the ghost of Christmas past.
Perhaps Gerrard’s biggest failure at Aston Villa was his inability to get a tune out of Danny Ings. The Midlands side opted to part with £25m ($30m/€28m) to sign him in the summer of 2021, beating the queue of clubs waiting to see if they could get him on a free transfer — a queue which reportedly included Manchester City (Sky Sports).
It’s easy to forget, but that’s just how well Ings was playing at the time. He bagged 12 goals in his final season with Southampton despite missing nine games, averaging a highly respectable 0.5 goals per 90 minutes. The campaign before that, he tied second for the Golden Boot, netting 22 times — ahead of Mohamed Salah.
On paper, Gerrard was therefore inheriting one of the best strikers in the Premier League when he took charge at Villa Park. Ings’ biggest struggle has always been staying healthy. Yet despite a strong record of availability under his former Liverpool teammate, the 30-year-old never really got going, more or less the first time in his career he has been fit but not scoring.
In fairness, Gerrard took charge of a squad sorely lacking in identity. Good players were scattered throughout the roster, but with no obvious cohesion: Ollie Watkins had a strong case for the central berth, instantly leaving Ings as either surplus to requirements or a square peg in a round hole. A similar problem presented itself with Emiliano Buendia and Philippe Coutinho, both vying for a number 10 position that didn’t even exist in the formation which brought Gerrard such success at Rangers.
But there were ways around the problem. Gerrard did his level best, experimenting with a diamond formation that seemed on paper to suit the personnel better than any other shape. However, nothing stuck, and Ings only ever managed five league goals under his former captain.
Since Gerrard’s departure, Ings has already found the net four times in four Premier League games. That included a brace under caretaker manager Aaron Danks in the very first match following the board’s decision to make a change, followed up by another two-goal haul for Emery in the final game before the league went on hiatus.
Klopp will have to be very wary of a reinvigorated Ings. Before the break, Liverpool were routinely dominating, but giving up too many clear-cut chances — Aston Villa now have just the man to seize on such moments. They are also bound to be sharp, having played four friendlies with more or less a full-strength squad to choose from over the course of the World Cup break.
For the most part, Liverpool fans will be pleased to see Ings doing well, with his injury woes at Anfield particularly cruel. But having stayed quiet for essentially the whole Gerrard era, Klopp will hope that one last game passes the striker by when the Reds make the trip to Villa Park. With the importance of re-establishing momentum abundantly clear, that would be a very welcome late Christmas present.