After The Match 


Aston Villa-Liverpool 0-0            18.3. 07                            PL
Team: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise, Gerrard, Mascherano, Sissoko, Aurelio, Bellamy, Kuyt
Subs: Alonso (Sissoko 59), Pennant (Bellamy 72),
Fowler (Gerrard 83)
Not used: Dudek, Hyypia
Yellow: Mascherano (20), Bellamy (66), Pennant (90)
Petrov (41), Carew (90)
Red: None
Referee: L Mason
Attendance: 42,551
Shots on target: 1-2
Shots off target: 6-3
Blocked shots: 3-2
Possession: 39.7-60.3
Fouls conceded: 13-12
Corners: 2-6
Offsides: 3-2
Yellow: 2-3

HEADLINES "'s only
a kick, don't worry."

   Steven Gerrard

1903: Carragher: We're playing catch-up
1803: Gerrard plays down fitness fears
1803: Rafa rounds on Reds
1803: O'Neill: We will improve
1803: Points shared in lifeless tie

Carragher: We're playing catch-up

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 Champions League.

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 third spot.

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 38 games.

"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 first!"

Steven Gerrard will be available after giving Steve McClaren a slight injury scare when receiving a kick on the shin against Villa.

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 important player."

Gerrard plays 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 Aston Villa.

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."

Rafa rounds on Reds

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 Villa.

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 Sky Sports.

"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," Benitez added.

"It doesn't matter, it wasn't the most important thing in the game."

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.

O'Neill: 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 better.

"You need points on the board, we need to win some games, and we can certainly be more entertaining and we have been more entertaining."

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 spot in
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 impression.

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 Norwegian.

Another pass from Barry presented Carew with another half-chance but the striker screwed his shot across the face of goal.

Olof Mellberg headed a Young free-kick straight at Reina the first save the Spaniard had to make, and a straightforward one.

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.

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Thor Zakariassen