By John Curtis - PA Sport
Jamie Carragher admitted Liverpool are currently "a level
behind" Manchester United and Chelsea - but he hopes the gap
can be bridged with the players who will be brought in
during the summer.
The England defender believes the Reds are capable of
matching the best in one-off or two-legged situations as
demonstrated by their run to the quarter-finals of the
But he accepts that over a 10-month season, the Merseysiders
are playing catch-up in terms of competing with the top two
in the Barclays Premiership.
An uninspiring goalless draw at Aston Villa yesterday leaves
Rafael Benitez's side scrapping it out with Arsenal for
Carragher said: "I get asked why the team does so
brilliantly in Europe and are inconsistent in the league? I
am not sure. There are a lot of factors in it.
"I think a two-legged game, especially when we are playing
at Anfield and the atmosphere created in European games,
makes it very difficult for the opposition.
"But at the moment, we are just a little bit behind Chelsea
and Manchester United over a nine-10 month season spanning
"The league is a long hard slog and something we've got to
look to improve. We didn't make a great start to this season
and the year before was the same.
"We are just a level behind the top two at the moment. It's
something we want to bridge over the summer. It's up to the
manager and the coaching staff to see which direction they
want to go in.
"As players we've got to do as much as we can between now
and the end of the season to prove to the manager that we
still deserve to be here next season."
Arsenal's last-gasp defeat to Everton meant Liverpool's
point at Villa Park was more meritorious and they are only a
point behind the Gunners, who have a game in hand.
Carragher said: "I am sure the battle with Arsenal will go
right to the wire. We want to finish third and I am sure
they will as well.
"The main thing is that we are in the Champions League again
next year but also we want to do as well as we can in the
competition this season."
In the short term Carragher's thoughts have now turned to
England and a crucial European Championship qualifier with
Israel in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
He is certain to play given that both first choice
full-backs in the injured Gary Neville and suspended Ashley
Cole are unavailable.
Carragher said: "It's a very important game but you are
always involved in big games for England and Liverpool and I
am sure this will be no different.
"Is it my biggest England game? Let's hope I am playing
Steven Gerrard will be available after giving Steve McClaren
a slight injury scare when receiving a kick on the shin
Carragher said: "Steven is a top player for Liverpool and a
top player for England.
"He came off a few minutes early just as a precaution
against Villa and he will be fine.
"He is one of England's most important, if not our most
down fitness fears
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard insists he will be fit
for England's European Championship qualifier with Israel
in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
Gerrard appeared to be limping for a while during the first
half after overstretching for the ball - and he was
substituted six minutes from the end of the goalless draw at
He headed to the dressing rooms before the final whistle but
insisted that he will be ready for a game which is crucial
to England's hopes of reaching the 2008 finals.
Before boarding the Liverpool coach, Gerrard said: "I will
be fine - it's only a kick, don't worry."
Reds boss Rafael Benitez also confirmed that Gerrard has
suffered no serious setbacks.
The Spaniard said: "Steven had a kick on the shin but it is
nothing serious. He is fine. He has no problem."
By Tom Adams - Sky Sports
Rafa Benitez admitted he was far from happy with
Liverpool's display after a dismal 0-0 draw with Aston
The Reds could have snatched all three points when Robbie
Fowler saw a header tipped wide by Thomas Sorensen in the
dying seconds, but neither side deserved to come away with a
win following a sterile encounter.
Liverpool inched to within a point of third-placed Arsenal -
who play Everton later on Sunday - and Benitez perceived the
point to be the only saving grace from a poor display.
"We must try to find positive things after the game - we
have one more point - but I am not happy, no," Benitez told
"We were trying to win but really we didn't play well, we
kept the ball and had plenty of possession but not chances.
"We were trying to move the ball but we couldn't, they were
pressing well in the middle and it was difficult for us to
create clear chances.
"It is the only positive thing that we got one more point."
Villa appealed in vain for a penalty in the first half when
Stilian Petrov fell under contact from Jamie Carragher and
Steve Finnan, but Benitez was sure that the Bulgarian dived
in an attempt to con referee Lee Mason.
"No I think it was a dive, I was talking with the players
and also in the TV you could see that it was a dive,"
"It doesn't matter, it wasn't the most important thing in
Reds skipper Steven Gerrard was substituted before the end
of the tie, but Benitez dismissed fears of a fitness problem
ahead of England's Euro 2008 qualifier with Israel.
"We had to change and Robbie [Fowler] could score, you could
see he almost scored.
We will improve
By Tom Adams - Sky Sports
Martin O'Neill insisted that Aston Villa can play a lot
better following a 0-0 draw with Liverpool that offered
little in the way of entertainment.
A point represented a good return for a Villa side who had
only won two of their previous 18 games, but their manager
was quick to underline that his side can improve measurably.
"You have reminded me we are in the results business and we
will play better there is absolutely no doubt about it,"
O'Neill told Sky Sports.
"But perhaps getting the point today might actually be
important for us, but we will play better, we can play
"You need points on the board, we need to win some games,
and we can certainly be more entertaining and we have been
Villa appealed strongly for a penalty in the first half when
Stilian Petrov fell under contact from Steve Finnan and
Jamie Carragher, and O'Neill felt his side should have been
awarded a spot-kick in one of the few noteworthy incidents
in the game.
"I've seen it back and it definitely looked a penalty to
me," added O'Neill.
Points shared in lifeless tie
Aston Villa produced a dogged performance to halt their
recent slump and hit Liverpool's hopes of claiming third
the Barclays Premiership.
This game will not last long in the memory with neither
goalkeeper hardly called into meaningful action until Villa
goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen denied Reds' substitute Robbie
Fowler in the 90th minute.
Villa will be the more satisfied with the outcome after
winning only two of their previous 17 games - as a share of
the spoils edges them nearer to safety.
The general impression was they were happy to settle for a
point from the first whistle, with John Carew employed as
the sole striker for lengthy periods.
Skipper Gareth Barry impressed in his first appearance since
being axed by England and Carew demanded attention up front
despite his lack of support.
Liverpool's performance was a million miles away from the
euphoria which had greeted their two-legged triumph over
Barcelona in the Champions League 11 days ago.
Daniel Agger was solid at the back for the visitors - but
the normally inspirational Steven Gerrard failed to make an
He also gave England coach Steve McClaren an injury scare in
the first half when overstretching - but recovered
sufficiently to play all but the final six minutes.
Villa had appeals for a penalty rejected in first half
injury-time when Petrov appeared to be kicked on the leg by
Steve Finnan — but referee Lee Mason waved play on.
Gerrard was switched into a more central role at the start
of the second period, with Kuyt moving out wide.
The Liverpool skipper found Bellamy in space on the right
and ran forward to try and meet the return pass — but Cahill
was able to intercept at the expense of a corner.
Barry was one of the few Villa players showing anything like
his best form and he threaded one pass through to Carew —
but Reina was quickly off his line to gather from the
Another pass from Barry presented Carew with another
half-chance but the striker screwed his shot across the face
Olof Mellberg headed a Young free-kick straight at Reina —
the first save the Spaniard had to make, and a
Gerrard was wide with a low 25-yard drive before Reds boss
Rafael Benitez brought on Xabi Alonso for the ineffective
Sissoko after 59 minutes.
Robbie Fowler replaced Gerrard with six minutes left and
almost won the game for Liverpool when his header was turned
around the post by Sorensen.