Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Match Report: Liverpool 1 - 3 Aston Villa

Liverpool slumped to their second Premier League defeat in nine days to put their title credentials firmly on the line.

Aston Villa produced a defiant, organised display and deserved their first win at Anfield since 2001.

The result also ended Liverpool's 31-match unbeaten home league record stretching back to December 2007, when Manchester United were the last winners at Anfield.

The spotlight will now be on Liverpool, who only lost twice in the league last season and still did not win the title.

The margin for error is now very fine. You rarely win the crown by losing more than five games in a season, and Liverpool's hopes could already have suffered a mortal blow.

A Lucas own goal and a Curtis Davies header saw Villa 2-0 up at the break. Fernando Torres pulled one back but an Ashley Young penalty settled matters son after.

Martin Skrtel returned to Liverpool's defence in place of teenager Daniel Ayala, having recovered sufficiently from a jaw injury to be risked.

This was the only change in the Liverpool side from the one that beat Stoke at home last week, with new Greek defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos not included in the squad.

Villa included Curtis Davies, who had recovered from a shoulder injury. Brad Friedel, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Stiliyan Petrov all returned to the side after being rested in the Europa League defeat away to Rapid Vienna last week.

Liverpool produced a vibrant start, but found themselves frustrated by the quick-tackling, quick-thinking Villa midfield.

The hosts could have been ahead in the first minute when Yossi Benayoun's back-header from Torres' chip into the area, beat Friedel but dropped inches wide.

A taste of what was to follow came from Villa's first chance came when Davies met a Nicky Shorey cross with a strong header, but it went straight at Jose Reina.

Torres and Steven Gerrard both saw shots blocked in the six-yard box, before Young was booked after 12 minutes for halting a Dirk Kuyt run.

Then Gerrard struck a first-timer from 20-yards just over from Kuyt's touched pass.

But Liverpool's problems were beginning to mount in a midfield that they were unable to dominate.

Javier Mascherano and Lucas were both fortunate not to be cautioned for fouls on Petrov and Agbonlahor in quick succession.

Torres was also coming in for some rough treatment from Carlos Cuellar, two tackles from behind going unpunished by referee Martin Atkinson.

By now Nigel Reo-Coker and Steve Sidwell were successfully breaking up Gerrard's flow in midfield, and Villa were soon to take the lead.

It came after 33 minutes when Lucas gave away a needless free-kick in midfield. Young swung the set-piece towards the near post, and it was the unfortunate Lucas who rose to head the ball past Reina for an own-goal.

Liverpool's play was sloppy and far too much possession was being conceded with ill-directed passes.

Further calamity came after Reina was booked in first half injury time for kicking the ball away in annoyance when referee Atkinson awarded a disputed corner, Sidwell's shot looking to have clipped a defender.

And from that disputed corner Villa found themselves two up. Shorey's corner swung into the near post and was headed home by Davies.

The hosts have staged some amazing comebacks in this stadium over the years, and they were going to need another massive performance to salvage anything from this situation.

Villa defended with organisation and desire. Roe-Coker was booked for kicking the ball away, and Friedel produced a fine save from a Kuyt header.

Kuyt then saw another header hit a post from a Gerrard corner from the left.

But Villa were still showing great resilience, and breaking quickly to cause Liverpool all sorts of problems at the back, Reo-Coker being only inches away from a third with one sliding attempt.

Liverpool sent on Andriy Voronin for Lucas after 66 minutes, with Friedel producing another fine stop from a Gerrard drive soon after.

But after 72 minutes Liverpool finally gave themselves some hope when Emiliano Insua got down the left and rolled the ball into the six-yard box for Torres to score.

Two minutes later Liverpool were back in despair and Villa celebrating. Shorey's pass into the path of Reo-Coker saw the midfielder surge into the box only to be felled by Gerrard's desperate tackle.

It was a clear penalty and Young stepped up to restore Villa's two-goal lead.

Liverpool's frustration was obvious. Torres was booked for dissent when Young went down injured and asked for treatment. He was eventually replaced by Heskey.

Ryan Babel came on for Benayoun, Liverpool still coming forward. Friedel again made a fine save from a Torres flick, before Kuyt sent a close range effort wide of the far post.

The outstanding Friedel, against his former club, saved from Torres and Glen Johnson, with Skrtel booked in the dying minutes, but Villa held on for a famous victory.

Rafa Rues Reds Errors

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez condemned his players for making "too many mistakes" as they slumped to their second Premier League defeat in nine days.

Beaten at Tottenham on the opening weekend, they recovered to over-power Stoke in midweek, only to slump to a disheartening 3-1 home defeat at the hands of a vibrant Aston Villa at Anfield.

It was Villa's first win of the season, and ended Liverpool's 31-match unbeaten league run dating back to December 2007.

And the reverse already puts in doubt Liverpool's title aspirations. They only lost two league games last season, now they have equalled that tally in the opening days of the new campaign.

Villa were two-up at the break through a Lucas own goal and a header from Curtis Davies. Torres pulled one back in the second-half, but Steven Gerrard's lunge at Nigel Reo-Coker conceded a spot-kick that Ashley Young confidently drove home.

Benitez said: "In the first 20 minutes we created plenty of chances and played well. Then we conceded the own goal and started to make more mistakes.

"We have lost and we know we have to improve. I felt we had a chance when Fernando Torres scored, but the penalty finished it. It was a clear penalty.

"We now know that we have to go to Bolton on Saturday and win. Everything could change if we do that, our confidence will improve."

Benitez added: "We were not playing well, and we were up against a team who are excellent on the counter-attack.

"Their keeper (Brad Friedel) made some great saves, but when that happens we just have to make more chances.

"This squad is virtually the same as last season, so I believe it is good enough to mount a title challenge. But we must do more, we must win at Bolton.

"We will have to sit down and analyse every player now, and make sure we do the right things in our next match. But our senior players must take more responsibility."

Villa boss Martin O'Neill said: "That was a terrific effort from my team. At 2-0 we were in reasonable command of the game, although you are never in command at Anfield.

"But when they scored we got a penalty straightaway, a clean penalty, and we were back with our two goal lead.

"That gave us confidence, discipline and shape to our team and we deserved to win.

"Brad Friedel was outstanding. He rolled back the years. He was fantastic against his old club to perform like that at Anfield.

"He will be delighted with himself, and rightly so, and we are delighted with him."

"It was a fantastic performance from the whole side and we fully deserved the victory."

Liverpool Youngster Daniel Ayala To Start Against Aston Villa

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has indicated that he may hand 18-year-old Daniel Ayala a spot in the starting line-up to face Aston Villa, should Martin Skrtel fail to recover in time.

The Spanish centre-half made his full debut in the 4-0 win over Stoke City, deputising for the injured duo of Skrtel (jaw) and Daniel Agger (back).

Benitez also said that the youngster would be preferred over the club's new signing, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, since the Greece international has not had enough time to settle down on Merseyside.

"Dani [Ayala] did very well against Stoke after a nervous start and it may be difficult to bring Kyrgiakos straight in," Rafa is quoted by ESPN soccernet as saying.

The Spaniard then focused on the task at hand, and hoped that the winning mentality would continue against Villa.

"Against Stoke the players wanted to prove they are good enough to win the title after that opening defeat at Spurs [Tottenham Hotspur]," he said.

"It was very important for them to win at home in midweek in front of their own fans, and they will feel the same on Monday against a very good Villa side.

"We scored four against Stoke, did not concede, and won well. But they know that there is still plenty of room for improvement.

"When you lose a game you are so determined to prove something in the next game. We have done that and aim to do the same again on Monday."

The gaffer signed off by warning his charges against complacency after their emphatic win over the Potters.

"Villa have ability and pace, it will be a tough game," he remarked. "They have lost Gareth Barry but they are still a very good team."

Liverpool FC's Yossi Benayoun Plans To Keep His Place

Liverpool FC midfielder Yossi Benayoun has won back his place in Rafa Benitez's side - and he intends to hang onto it.

The Israeli midfielder struggled to get regular starts last term until the back end of the season, when his form played a major part in Liverpool’s unbeaten 11-match run to the end of the campaign that almost took the title.

Boss Benitez opted to start this term with Ryan Babel on the left instead of Benayoun, and that decision has clearly inspired the 29-year-old.

Benayoun came on as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 defeat at Tottenham last weekend, and was on from the start for a fine display on Wednesday in the 4-0 victory over Stoke.

He intends to keep that form going on Monday night when Aston Villa are the visitors to Anfield.

Benayoun says: "I like to play from the left. A few years ago for the national team in Israel I always played on the left and I enjoy it.

"I am able to cut inside to the middle and get plenty of the ball, which makes it a bit easier. But I will be happy to play anywhere.

"Every player wants to start every game but it is the manager’s decision to decide who is to start and who will not, so every time that I get my chance I just try to do my best.

"Even if I only get to come on for 10 or 20 minutes or, like on Wednesday night, when I get to start I always give my all. I always try my best to impress.

"Of course I want to start more and more games but my job is to work hard and try to prove myself and this is what I try to do."

Benitez has a difficult choice over his central defensive pairing against Villa.

Despite having signed Greek international Sotirios Kyrgiakos for £2m, Benitez may still opt for teenager Daniel Ayala, or even spring a surprise by using Martin Skrtel, who is suffering from a fractured jaw.

Skrtel has been training over the past few days, but Benitez will consider his fitness and the risk factor later on Monday. He believes that the 30 year-old Kyrgiakos lacks match fitness.

Benitez will be without defender Daniel Agger for several weeks as the Dane is due to have back surgery on Tuesday.

Agger has missed the opening of the season, having been troubled with the injury all summer.

Liverpool FC dare not lose again tonight, with Benitez and his skipper Steven Gerrard believing this season’s title race will be much harder and very different from previous campaigns.

Gerrard insists: "The opening games have shown this season it will be very difficult to win, we are going to have to be even better than last season.

"It looks like it is going to be a very competitive league this season."

Benitez says: "This will be a different sort of title race. Already we have lost, and so have Manchester United.

"There are other teams who can make an impact, Spurs, Manchester City, Villa, and I believe it will be a lot harder this season for the top four teams to win every game.

"Villa will be difficult for us. They have pace, experience and ability. They do very well in away games because of that and are an extremely dangerous side."

Hertha Fear Voronin Blow

Liverpool have no plans to let Andriy Voronin leave the club, according to Hertha Berlin.

Hertha had Voronin on a season-long loan last term and he impressed with 11 goals in the German capital.

The Bundesliga club were hoping to bring him back, either on loan or on a permanent basis, but it seems Voronin is back in the plans of Reds boss Rafa Benitez.

"We have been talking to Liverpool and Rafael Benitez, but we have to stay realistic," general manager Michael Preetz told Spox.

"At this moment they do not only refuse to give Andriy (Voronin) another loan spell away from the club, they do not even want to sell him as well.

"The fact is that he is getting match practice at Liverpool and it looks as if we have to forget this possibility."

Reports in Germany claim Hertha are now turning their attentions to Gremio forward Fernandinho.

Liverpool Keeper Pepe Reina Is Best In Premier League - Rafael Benitez

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has lavished praise upon Pepe Reina, saying that he is the complete goalkeeper and the best in the England.

"Pepe is the best in the Premier League for me. He is the number one," Benitez told Liverpool's official website.

"He is good with the ball, good in possession and he is good at organising the defenders and so he can help them. He can also start the counter-attacks. He is the complete goalkeeper.

"He is very important for us in attacking terms," continued the Spaniard.

"He is a threat to defences because when you have Torres and Pepe together you know as a defender you cannot be watching the game. Pepe can give assists.

Benitez went on to talk about Reina's attitude to training and how the role of goalkeeper has changed over the years.

"He works hard on his kicking and you can see how good he is. He has a very good mentality and is always joking so his teammates are happy with him," said the Liverpool manager.

"When you talk about goalkeepers their job has changed. Before it was just being in the six-yard box saving shots. Now they have to be reading the game and the goalkeeper is now the sweeper.

"It is not easy for him with Spain because Casillas is doing so well, but for the level Pepe is he could play for any other country."

The Spaniard believes having a top class goalkeeper can be the difference between you winning the title and dropping vital points. Benitez was also pleased Reina had reached such a high standard of goalkeeping early in the season.

"A goalkeeper can win you the title definitely. When you are attacking all the time, he might have one save to make and that can be the difference," he continued.

"The keeper is really a key player, think of Schmeichel and Van der Sar last season for Manchester United.

"We have fantastic keepers in England but at a top side like Liverpool it is very, very difficult because normally they are not involved in the game too much.

"To see Pepe at this level from the beginning of the season is really good for us.

"He is a player who needs to be focused and concentrated because he has one or two saves to make in a game.

"He started very well against Tottenham and the other day the save from Delap against Stoke was fantastic and he dealt very well with the throw-ins.

Benitez believes Reina has only improved since he joined the club, and praised his maturity and decision making, explaining, "I think he was really good when we signed him but he now has more experience and knows exactly the style of English football. He is working hard with Xavi Valero (goalkeeping coach), he is more mature.

"He has the same qualities, but because he is more mature he is relaxed and he can make better decisions."

Argentina Coach Diego Maradona Is Watching Liverpool's Emiliano Insua - Rafael Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has claimed that Argentina national team boss Diego Maradona is monitoring the progress of Emiliano Insua, considering an international call-up for the 20-year-old.

"Maradona is watching him and the Argentina staff are monitoring the situation because they know he's doing well," Benitez told the club's official website.

"I think in the future - I don't know how long, but sooner rather than later - he will be with the national team."

Although the rising star has risen to the challenge and has proved that he is worthy of being first choice for the left-back position, the gaffer maintains that he has made no promises that the youngster will be an automatic draft into the starting line-up. Insua will have to compete with Fabio Aurelio and Andrea Dossena, who are both close to proving their fitness.

"We knew he was a player with potential and he is improving," began 'Rafa', referring to the young South American. "He already has some experience for his age and he's keen to learn. For us it's been a good addition and hopefully he'll continue playing well.

"He has to compete with Aurelio, who is a player with real quality, and with Dossena, a player with experience who is working very hard and who plays for Italy."

All said and done, the manager believes that the youngster is more than capable of stepping up to the defensive hot-plate when called upon.

"He has to compete, but he'll have his chances," he concluded.

Nemeth On AEK's Radar

Krisztian Nemeth's agent has not ruled out a loan move to AEK Athens for the promising youngster.

The Liverpool striker has been linked with a switch to the Greek side after defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos sealed a £2million transfer the other way.

Nemeth's agent Tibor Pataky claimed talks have taken place between the two clubs and he has not ruled out a loan switch for the 20-year-old Hungarian.

Pataky told www.origo.hu: "This is not a finished business but it's a fact that there have been talks between the two clubs.

"Liverpool have extended Krisztian's contract until 2012 lately and this shows that they consider him as a good prospect for the future.

"At the moment anything can happen with him."

Jamie Carragher Reveals Boxing Secret Behind His Liverpool Fitness

Liverpool's talismanic centre-back Jamie Carragher has revealed how he has used boxing this summer to remain in peak condition to help him fight for his place as his 32nd birthday draws nearer.

"I know it sounds stupid to some people but I never feel like I have cemented my place, that it can all be taken away from me very quickly," the former England international told the club's official website.

"I always try to do something different each summer to try to get that extra couple of per cent. I went boxing, I've always eaten well and now I eat to the absolute maximum.

"We are all getting older, but another way of looking at it is Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel are getting more experienced which is going to help them.

"They are coming into the prime of their careers. I am not stupid. I am 32 in January. It will happen one day."

The Reds started this season with a defeat at White Hart Lane, but followed it up with a 4-0 demolition of Stoke City at Anfield in midweek. Aston Villa are the visitors to Merseyside on Monday night, and Carragher is relishing the test that they will provide.

"I would hate to be at a club where it didn't matter, where there wasn't that pressure to win," he affirmed.

"I wouldn't say there is no point playing in those circumstances but at least you know you are playing for a proper team here."

Liverpool FC Captain Steven Gerrard To Fight Civil Court Case

Liverpool FC captain Steven Gerrard will “strenuously” fight a claim for damages from the businessman he punched in a Southport nightclub.

Gerrard was cleared of affray last month following the fight with Marcus McGee, but six of the Liverpool midfielder’s friends received suspended jail terms and community service.

Mr. McGee, 34, who lost a front tooth and suffered facial cuts in the incident last December, said he has told lawyers to begin civil action for compensation for the injuries he received.

Mr. Gerrard’s solicitor, Richard Green, said: “If proceedings are issued we will strenuously defend them.”

“In terms of any claim, my client was charged with section 47 assault but that was dropped because there was no evidence that he caused any injuries.

“I would have thought that if there was going to be a claim it would be against the six who pleaded guilty as opposed to the one who was acquitted.”

He said the first time he became aware of Mr. McGee’s intention to sue was when he read the Sunday newspapers.

“I have not spoken to my client, but I have got a fair idea of what he would say,” he added.

Mr. McGee told a Sunday newspaper that he did not believe that justice had been served in the trial.

“I still can’t believe that they all walked free – that they effectively got away with beating me up.”

“Despite reports, I am not a fan of Manchester United. That couldn’t be further from the truth because I support Manchester City.

“I have no personal axe to grind with Steven Gerrard. I just want to see fairness across the board and justice being seen to be done.

“That night my friends who run the bar asked me to look after the music. I just wish now I had changed it like I was asked and none of this would have happened.”

A jury at Liverpool Crown Court acquitted Mr. Gerrard of unjustly attacking Mr. McGee in the Lounge Inn in Southport, Merseyside, on December 29 as he celebrated Liverpool’s 5-1 demolition of Newcastle United hours earlier.

Mr. Gerrard admitted hitting Mr. McGee but denied affray, saying it was in self-defence.

Five of Mr. Gerrard’s friends admitted affray and another pleaded guilty to threatening behaviour in a fight.

They were given sentences of 18 weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and were told to do 150 hours of unpaid work.