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Rodgers rues not starting Sterling, though Villa reaping rewards

There is protecting your players, then there is wrapping them up in cotton wool. Brendan Rodgers left Raheem Sterling, Liverpool’s leading light this season so far, on the bench against Aston Villa, and paid the price.

Lacking cutting edge in the final third, the Reds couldn’t break a stubborn away rearguard down, with clear signs that Roy Keane’s influence on the Villa training ground is starting to pay dividends. The Reds are odds-on with Coral at 1/2 to finish in the top four, and what is encouraging for Liverpool, is that Rodgers at least is quick to learn from his mistakes, and has the humility to admit when he has made one.

Although the thinking behind resting Sterling was due to the talented teenager having played a lot of matches in such a short space of time, there was also the issue of Liverpool’s upcoming Champions League match. However, Ludogorets Razgrad of Bulgaria shouldn’t provide too much of a challenge, certainly not one worth resting your best player for, despite this being the Anfield outfit’s first season back in Europe’s elite competition since 2010.

The Villa game raised a number of issues. Firstly, did a manager of Rodgers’ ilk actually underestimate the visitors that much as to rest Sterling, and a number of others? And if so, how could he? The Premier League table doesn’t lie, and there is a reason the West Midlands club now sit second two points behind Chelsea. Two points behind Chelsea; this season’s form team.

Many wrote Paul Lambert’s side off before the new campaign had even begun. The lack of investment in the team, free transfers, and owner Randy Lerner putting the club up for sale chief among them. However, in the likes of Philippe Senderos, Kieran Richardson, Tom Cleverley, Joe Cole and former Reds loanee Aly Cissokho, Lambert identified players who knew the Premier League.

Lambert himself is a good, relatively young and talented British manager, like Rodgers; however, he has had to be patient with his fledgling Villa squad. There is no doubt that he had the potential, the question was when we were going to see it.

A disciple of the Borussia Dortmund team that upset the odds to win the Champions League in 1997, it quickly became evident to those who paid attention that Lambert was attempting to copy the blueprint that current Westfalenstadion boss Jurgen Klopp had set out.

Bringing in young, homegrown players from lower league football that had talent and hunger, and moulding them into polished gems, Lambert’s philosophy may now be starting to pay off.

Fabian Delph is a prime example; however, he was at the club when the Scottish boss arrived. The midfielder’s rise to prominence was capped by his first senior England start in the recent Three Lions’ Euro 2016 qualifier against Switzerland, and it seems he is now going from strength to strength.

Throughout the lineup against Liverpool was evidence of a young, ambitious, tenacious team. Nathan Baker, 23, stepped in for seasoned centre back Ron Vlaar and showed why he could potentially be the next Villa player to make the England fold. Tactically astute and hardworking, Baker kept Liverpool’s frontline in check, and even Sterling when he came on.

There is no doubt Rodgers will use the match as an example of what not to do, and Liverpool will be successful in their own right this term. However, Villa could finally be on the cusp of something special.