Jurgen Klopp returns to scene of biggest Liverpool shambles but bizarre one-off long forgotten

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 04: A frustrated Jurgen Klopp the manager / head coach of Liverpool reacts during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on October 4, 2020 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
Jurgen Klopp can't hide his feelings during Liverpool's infamous 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa -Credit:Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

If Villa Park hasn't necessarily been the venue for the nadir of Jurgen Klopp's time as a Premier League manager at Liverpool, it was certainly the setting for his most peculiar evening of the last eight years.

The Reds arrived in Birmingham as champions of England in early October of 2020 but were sent packing with their tail between their legs having been swatted aside with a bizarre 7-2 shellacking that, even four years on, still feels like a fever dream. That Liverpool conceded seven for the first time since 1963 was made even more surreal by the fact the match was played out without a single fan in attendance at the time.

"No excuses. No mitigation. No extenuating circumstances," wrote the ECHO on the night. "A shambolic, disaster of a scoreline that will sadly be talked about for years to come."

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Fortunately for Klopp, though, that the frankly outlandish, once-in-a-generation scoreline was played out to the backdrop usually reserved for a training session ensured that freak result is rarely harked back to years later and the Reds manager's general record otherwise is impeccable away to the Villans.

Liverpool have won eight of their last nine trips there, in fact, and victory for the visitors on Monday night will see them move up to 39 wins from the 100 games played there, just one short of the hosts' tally of 40. It's quite the record.

But if we are previewing Monday's fourth-versus-third clash by referencing the strange games of modern times between two of the biggest clubs in the land, the FA Cup visit of January 2021 must also be taken into account.

A virtually full strength Reds were hosted by a Villa squad decimated by a COVID outbreak at the time, meaning they were forced to field a team made up of players from their Under-23 and U18s ranks on the night. Unsurprisingly, the visitors won 4-1, but not before being given a scare by Louie Barry's smart equaliser on the night.

There was also the sight of an academy side being dispatched 5-0 in a League Cup quarter-final at Villa Park in December 2019 with Klopp's seniors watching thousands of miles away in Qatar ahead of their involvement in the Club World Cup the following night.

If there is one fixture at Villa Park that will forever be synonymous with Klopp's Liverpool, however, it was the dramatic, late turnaround in November 2019 when goals from Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane saw them win 2-1 and take a big stride forward in their aim of winning the Premier League. Those who were there on the day started to feel like something was really stirring and they were proven right.

It's been an outstanding campaign for Unai Emery's men, who are looking to close in on a top-four finish having navigated themselves all the way to the Europa Conference semi-final, where they were beaten by Greek giants Olympiakos. For all the progress made at Villa Park this season, though, Emery's men have started to look like they are feeling the effects of their exertions of late and they host Liverpool having won just three of their last 10 across all competitions and none in their last four.

What could be the difference maker on the night itself is Liverpool's relative freshness compared to their hosts from the Midlands. The Reds were noticeably improved when they hosted Tottenham Hotspur last week in their first match in eight days. They ripped through Spurs on the day, going 4-0 at Anfield before a patchy final 20 minutes allowed Ange Postecoglou's men to restore some sort of pride.

Klopp's charges once more begin on Monday with the benefit of another eight-day stretch without a fixture while Emery's team will host the side directly above them having gone out of Europe on Thursday night in Greece. How well a tired Villa who are almost assured of Champions League football respond from that will go a long way towards deciding the result.

For Liverpool, it appears as though there are no more injury problems to concern themselves with, although it's unclear where Diogo Jota is up to on the comeback trail. The Portugal international was initially thought to be sidelined for a fortnight when he suffered a problem after the win over Fulham over three weeks ago but Klopp has offered no real update on the state of play over his No.20 and he was not pictured in training over the weekend.

One of the big questions asked of the Reds during a season that threatened to promise more than many had hoped, before ultimately falling short, was their inability to beat other teams around them in the division. September's 3-0 win against Villa at Anfield was their only victory against the other sides in the top four. A return of six points from a possible 15 so far is ultimately what has undercut the title challenge, particularly the draw at home to Manchester City during an especially dominant second half.

For Klopp, though, he will know that his team deserve to be where they will now finish, in third. That represents significant progress for a relatively new squad but also gnaws slightly given this was his final attempt in the Anfield hotseat. There is little riding on Monday night's affair for either side but that sort of freedom might allow the Reds to add to their already impressive catalogue of successes at Villa Park. Just don't use October 2020 as the reference point.