Sunday, August 12, 2007

Aston Villa 1 -2 LiverpooL

Steven Gerrard's superb free-kick ensured victory for Liverpool on the opening day of the Barclays Premier League campaign for the first time during the Rafael Benitez era.

Aston Villa looked to have rescued a point when skipper Gareth Barry cancelled out Martin Laursen's first-half own goal with an 86th-minute penalty.

But then Gerrard curled a 20-yard shot past the dive of Stuart Taylor barely 60 seconds later, after he had been brought down by Stiliyan Petrov.

Overall Liverpool were worthy winners with record signing Fernando Torres making a satisfactory debut despite spurning a golden first half opportunity.

The £20.2million capture from Atletico Madrid linked up effectively with Dirk Kuyt before being taken off with 11 minutes remaining.

But man of the match for the umpteenth time was England midfielder Gerrard who exerted so much influence over proceedings even before his goal while Jamie Carragher excelled at the heart of the Reds defence.

If Benitez could have hand-picked a first day opponent it would surely have been Villa given they have not beaten the Reds in front of their own fans for nine years.

Villa huffed and puffed with Barry outstanding in midfield but they seldom tested Jose Reina until he turned over an injury-time John Carew header.

Villa made a bright start in front of a capacity 43,000 crowd and Reina had to be alert to deal with a stinging 30-yard volley from makeshift Villa right-back Craig Gardner.

Carragher showed his class and awareness to block a shot from John Carew at the expense of a corner after he had been played in by Gardner.

But Liverpool gradually took command and Torres had his first half-chance after 17 minutes when he blazed over the bar from a narrow angle following a long clearance by Reina.

Taylor parried a low Gerrard drive and a superb pass from the England midfielder was seized on by Kuyt but he hesitated instead of shooting first time.

Villa central defender Olof Mellberg became the first player to be booked after 26 minutes for a clumsy challenge on Torres.

Torres showed his class when he outstripped Mellberg to find himself with only Taylor to beat. But the Spaniard screwed his shot across the face of goal.

Increasing pressure from the visitors paid off in the 36th minute although it needed an own goal from Laursen to break the deadlock.

Taylor did well to parry a Torres effort but Kuyt managed to cut the ball back into the danger area from the by-line and the unfortunate Laursen only succeeded in lofting the ball into the roof of the net.

Gerrard curled a shot just over the bar after Pennant found him in plenty of space and the visitors were carving gaps in the Villa defence almost at will.

When Villa did venture forward, Barry played in Petrov but his left-footed drive lacked conviction and flew straight at Reina.

O'Neill made a half-time substitution, replacing Laursen with Gary Cahill although it was not known whether it was tactical or because he had suffered a knock.

Villa tried to build up some momentum and Nigel Reo-Coker tried his luck from the edge of the Liverpool box but dragged his shot well wide.

Pennant became the first Liverpool player to be yellow-carded after 55 minutes for a challenge on Young.

The out of sorts Bouma was then booked for a late tackle on Pennant.

Villa were still struggling to create any openings and it needed a brilliant block from Gardner to prevent Gerrard doubling Liverpool's lead.

Kuyt made good ground down the right and squared the ball across goal to his unmarked skipper who struck his shot cleanly enough but Gardner threw his body in the way to stop a certain goal.

Gerrard was denied again when Taylor turned aside his fierce first-time drive.

Villa looked to have rescued a point with four minutes remaining when Barry converted a penalty after Carragher had handled in the box.

But the Villa celebrations had not died down when Gerrard restored Liverpool's lead within 60 seconds.

He was brought down 20 yards out by Petrov and himself curled a superb free-kick past Taylor to cap an excellent individual performance.


Aston Villa: Taylor, Gardner, Mellberg, Laursen (Cahill 46),Bouma (Moore 71), Petrov, Reo-Coker, Barry, Agbonlahor, Carew,Young.

Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Arbeloa,Pennant (Babel 74), Gerrard, Alonso, Riise,Torres (Voronin 79), Kuyt (Sissoko 90).