Gerrard celebrates with Riera after his third goal.
switched to Liverpool FC
By Chris Beesley - Liverpool Daily Post
The advantage remains with Manchester
United in the Premier League title race but the momentum has
now firmly shifted away from Old Trafford and towards
Over the past three games, Liverpool have just looked better
and better and on Sunday they totally dismantled Aston
Villa, taking them apart in every single department.
Although I saw Martin O’Neill’s side similarly outclassed at
Stamford Bridge earlier this season, the final score on that
occasion was just 2-0 to Chelsea.
If Liverpool had kept pressing after Brad Friedel’s sending
off who knows what the final score might have been but why
overexert yourself too much in such circumstances.
The points had already been secured in emphatic fashion with
just an hour on the clock and if you can manage that in any
Premier League fixture then it’s happy days!
I honestly didn’t think United were ever going to win again
at Fulham either.
They’ve been tested for the first time this season and have
started to buckle under the pressure.
You can’t just turn form on or off and United have lost
their way somewhat over the past few weeks.
Whereas Liverpool will have wanted to keep going, the
upcoming international break will be welcomed by the United
They now have a chance to regroup and there won’t be a full
week of pressure building up ahead of their next match.
Back at Anfield it seems strange to think that it is only a
few weeks since we had all the glorious uncertainty over
Rafael Benitez and his stalling on a new contract.
Amazingly, going into the first leg at Real Madrid there was
all the talk that he was going to walk and rumours that if
the Spaniards triumphed by two goals or more then George
Gillett was going to withdraw Benitez’s contract offer
It’s bizarre really, I don’t know of any other club who have
had anything like this kind scenario going on.
Now that his own future has been sorted out, I imagine that
Rafael Benitez is very comfortable.
Of course we’re not privy to what is said behind the scenes
but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that Tom Hicks
has had a word with Benitez and reassured him that if the
club is sold it won’t be a problem. In fact, if the club
does end up being sold it will probably be a plus point for
Benitez and it could work out well for him.
The three games in less than a fortnight against Real
Madrid, Manchester United and Aston Villa were always
earmarked as being crucial for Liverpool and they couldn’t
really have done any more.
With 13 goals netted in those matches I just hope Benitez’s
side haven’t wasted their ‘goals quota’ for the run-in.
But while it’s ok to beat the big teams, Liverpool have
struggled against some of the lesser sides and that’s
something they’ll have to remedy in the coming weeks.
But with Albert Riera coming back to form and the full-backs
starting to look good they seem to have a lot more in their
Mark Lawrenson was talking to CHRISTOPHER BEESLEY
Utd under pressure
Liverpool winger Albert Riera claims Manchester United are
beginning to feel the pressure in the Premier League title
The Reds followed up their 4-1 Old Trafford success with a
5-0 Anfield rout of Aston Villa to take full advantage of
the leaders' shock 2-0 defeat at Fulham 24 hours earlier.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side now only hold a one-point lead over
Rafa Benitez's men but still have the added benefit of a
game in hand over the Merseysiders.
Former Manchester City loanee Riera believes that the
reigning Premier League and European champions now know that
they will not be allowed to walk away with the title.
He said: "After the game against United last week when we
won at Old Trafford, we showed them that we are still
fighting and that we will be until the very end.
"Now after winning against Villa and with United losing (at
Fulham) I think that they can feel us near to them.
"There are a lot of matches to be played in the Premier
League and the Champions League and there will be a lot of
pressure and I believe that they can feel this."
Riera believes Sunday's thrashing of Villa, in which he
found the net and captain Steven Gerrard hit a hat-trick,
proves Liverpool can handle the intensity of the
He added: "It was a great performance from everybody in the
team and the most important thing is that we had to win, and
Full-back Alvaro Arbeloa believes that Liverpool's
blistering start to matches is now becoming decisive.
He said: "We had a really good start to the Villa game, and
that kind of first-half display is the key to improving our
home form. If we can start really well at Anfield it can be
important because an early goal can open up a tight match.
"You saw what it was like against Real Madrid in the
Champions League and they could not cope with us, so I think
we have to do the same in all of our home matches.
"We are closer to the top but it is best to just focus on
how well we are playing. We have a lot of confidence now and
I think we are performing at our best level.
"We have to keep going, build on the momentum of the past
week or so and make sure we fight right up until the end of
And the Spain international was quick to praise Gerrard's
contribution, adding: "He was excellent and he deserves all
the credit he gets because he is a key player for us and
performs like a true captain.
"He is having an amazing season, and he deserves to be
considered the best there is."
for title fight
Comment by Ian Doyle - Daily Post
So, the fact is clear. Any doubts that
Liverpool possess the stomach for a title fight have now
been comprehensively banished. Another significant weekend
in the race for the championship ended with Rafael Benitez’s
side posting an ominous statement of intent.
With leaders Manchester United and second-placed Chelsea
having lost 24 hours earlier, opportunity once again knocked
for Liverpool to seize on the shortcomings of their nearest
The Anfield outfit have made a worrying habit of spurning
such openings, too often hampered by the weight of
Not this time. A five-goal rout of Aston Villa closed the
gap on United to a single point and sent a thunderous
message out to Old Trafford and beyond; the momentum, such a
precious commodity at this stage of the season, is now
firmly with Liverpool.
This is a rejuvenated side, bursting with confidence and
belief following successive humiliations of Real Madrid and
United. The hunger has returned throughout the team, the
scent of silverware in their nostrils.
None more so than Steven Gerrard, whose first Premier League
hat-trick was the highlight of another ruthless Liverpool
performance that ensured their biggest home triumph in 18
months. Three-up by the interval, Benitez’s chief post-match
complaint was that his team didn’t win by more.
Gerrard, again roaming with licence to thrill, was
irresistible, his treble taking his tally to a career-best
13 for the league season, 21 in all competitions.
The skipper held his nerve to convert twice from the spot
and has now converted 13 of his last 14 penalties, the
solitary failure coming in Marseille when he in any case
netted the rebound.
But this, as at Old Trafford, was a collective effort. And
with United showing evidence of cracking up, such
togetherness could prove crucial in the final two months of
In keeping his 100th clean sheet on his 197th appearance,
Pepe Reina surpassed Ray Clemence’s previous club best mark
for a century of shut-outs by three games.
Reina’s aptitude ensured Villa’s one purple patch midway
through the first half yielded no reward, the Spaniard
making two fine saves from John Carew before his alert long
punt created the second for Albert Riera.
Riera has been wildly inconsistent in recent weeks, but here
the Spanish winger was inspired, bewildering the hapless
Nigel Reo-Coker, finishing brilliantly for his goal and
later winning a penalty.
Dirk Kuyt, who opened the scoring, was also better than for
some time while returning duo Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa
posted sterling shifts, the latter impressive when
augmenting the attack.
Not a bad way to mark Benitez finally ending speculation
over his future by penning a new five-year contract.
Indeed, Liverpool could be top the next time United play in
a fortnight, with their trip to Fulham coming the day before
Old Trafford host Villa.
The Anfield outfit will hope Martin O’Neill’s faltering side
– from championship outsiders, the Midlanders have now not
won in eight – put up more resistance than yesterday.
But that should not detract from Liverpool’s efforts in
notching a third consecutive league win for the first time
As against Madrid and United, Benitez’s side were again
quick out of the blocks to lay the foundations for victory
with an unrelenting first-half display.
Brad Friedel had already clutched a Martin Skrtel header
from Gerrard’s left-wing corner when Liverpool went ahead in
the eighth minute from another set-piece. After Reo-Coker
fouled Riera, Gerrard’s free-kick was glanced on to the
crossbar by Alonso and Kuyt reacted quickest to smash the
ball into the goal with a diagonal drive.
A stretching Gerrard then almost reached Riera’s deflected
cross at the far post, but Villa, winners of 10 of their
previous 14 away league games this season, began to work
their way into the game with lumbering frame of Carew the
Twice the striker brought the best out of Reina. On 21
minutes, the goalkeeper was alert to palm away Carew’s
improvised flick from Ashley Young’s left-wing cross, then
produced an even better stop by diving full length to his
left to paw away a Carew header from a deep Reo-Coker
That delivery was one of the few things the Villa man did
right during a miserable 45 minutes in which he was culpable
for all three goals.
The second, on 33 minutes, came from a source that has
proven fruitful for Liverpool in recent weeks - a long ball
upfield from Reina.
An indecisive Reo-Coker, preoccupied by Fernando Torres,
allowed the ball to bounce and Riera raced on and unleashed
an instant volley in off the underside of the crossbar.
Gerrard shot wide and Arbeloa failed to take advantage after
being gifted possession by Friedel’s loose pass, before
Reo-Coker’s misery was complete six minutes before half-time
when upending Riera inside the area. Gerrard sent Friedel
the wrong way from the spot.
The second half was a procession. On 50 minutes, Carlos
Cuellar dumped Kuyt to the turf on the edge of the area and
Alonso rolled the free-kick for Gerrard to sidefoot
accurately into the bottom corner.
A quarter of an hour later, Alonso’s vision sent Torres
racing clear only for the striker to be upended by Friedel.
A clear penalty, it was still harsh on the former Liverpool
goalkeeper to see red, with Gerrard netting past replacement
Brad Guzan, making a Premier League debut, for his treble.
The rest of the game then centred on the vain attempt to
help Torres net the two goals that would give him 35 in his
first 50 league games for Liverpool , a mark not reached
since Jack Parkinson in 1906.
Not for the first time, the forthcoming international break
has come at the wrong time for Benitez, who will hope
Gerrard and in particular Torres return to Melwood unscathed
on Thursday week. The forces, though, are now with Liverpool
O'Neill praises in-form Reds
By Richard Bailey - Sky Sports
Martin O'Neill admitted that his side were
beaten by an 'exceptional' Liverpool side after they crashed
to a 5-0 defeat at Anfield on Sunday.
The Aston Villa boss added that although their opponents
were superior his side had contributed to their own
A Steven Gerrard hat-trick and goals from Dirk Kuyt and
Albert Riera compounded Villa's misery as they slipped three
points behind Arsenal in the race for fourth spot.
O'Neill will have to make do without first choice goalkeeper
Brad Friedel when his side travel to Manchester United next
time out after he conceded a penalty and was sent off for
bringing down Fernando Torres in the area with the score at
"We were well beaten by an exceptional Liverpool side," he
"But we did contribute to our own downfall. At 1-0 down, we
gave away an unbelievably bad goal. It was a shocking
"Liverpool have had two remarkable results before this game,
beating Real Madrid and Manchester United - and they
certainly did not need any help from us to achieve what they
The former Leicester and Celtic boss confirmed that his side
played poorly but was confident that they could get back on
track sooner rather than later.
"We played poorly. We gave away some lousy goals and we have
to get back on track," he highlighted.
"We were doing fine four or five weeks ago, but we were well
beaten by a better side. But we are a better side than we
showed in this game."
Midfielder Steven Gerrard insisted the
three points mattered more than his hat-trick as Liverpool
crushed Aston Villa 5-0.
Steven Gerrard scored a hat-trick with a free-kick and two
penalties, with the latter of the spot-kicks following the
dismissal of goalkeeper Brad Friedel for bringing down Reds
striker Fernando Torres.
In the first-half Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera had scored,
before Gerrard took over with his set-piece onslaught.
The win means United's lead at the top of the Barclays
Premier League is now one point - they also have a game in
hand - but Liverpool have now scored more goals than Sir
Alex Ferguson's men and have also established a slight
advantage on goal-difference.
And Gerrard told Sky Sports One: "The hat-trick means a lot
but the points are more important.
"It (the scoreline) is more than what we expected, before
the game we would have settled for a 1-0 win.
"Villa are a fantastic team who have been going really well
- but they've had a dip in form of late and it was important
we never let them settle.
"We got an early goal and built on it."
Gerrard acknowledged improving the Reds' goal difference was
on his mind after Riera had made it 2-0 at Anfield today.
He explained: "When you get a second goal you start thinking
of goal difference - but it's important not to get carried
"Manchester United are capable of winning their remaining
games so it's just important to keep focusing on what we're
doing... keep winning, stay on their shoulders and pounce on
any mistakes they make.
"Chelsea are there too and we're still aware of them too."
The England midfielder acknowledged that confidence is high
around Anfield at the moment, adding on Sky Sports News:
"Every knows we are on a rich vein of form. Confidence is
"It's a good break now. We go away with our international
teams and hopefully will come back and get ready to go
However, he feared he may not get the chance for his first
Premier League treble, adding: "Rafa likes to bring you off
when you've got two to keep your feet on the ground."
Rafa: We should
have scored more
By Jimmy Rice - LFC Official Website
Rafa Benitez claimed he would have liked
to have seen more goals after his side's 5-0 thrashing of
Steven Gerrard took his season's tally to 21 with a
hat-trick including two penalties, while further goals for
Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera completed the rout.
The whitewash means Liverpool now have a superior goal
difference to leaders Manchester United - but the manager
would have liked to have seen the net bulge even more.
"The team was doing well but it's true I am not totally
happy because we could have scored more goals from the
counter attack," said Benitez, who wanted the Reds to push
on after the dismissal of Brad Friedel at 4-0.
"We were playing against 10 players and had three or four
more chances. It's really important to take them because you
never know what's going to happen with the goal difference.
"Today it wasn't key but in other games it has been. I
wanted more goals. It's an area we need to improve.
"Don't get me wrong, I am really pleased and happy. The
players did a fantastic job but you can always improve."
The result puts Liverpool just one point behind United
having played a game more.
On where it leaves the title race, Benitez said: "We said
before we needed to do our job and wait for United to make
mistakes. Now we are closer but they are still in a much
better position. We need to keep going and pushing them.
"You cannot be thinking too much about what they will do and
how many mistakes they will make. You cannot have any
influence on this.
"We are closer and they will see we are working hard to win
games. Every game is like a final for us now.
"They will know we can beat anyone but each game is
different so we need to keep this momentum and confidence."
Asked if he thought Manchester United were feeling the
pressure following two straight defeats, Benitez responded:
"I don't know, talk to Mr Ferguson. My impression is that
Liverpool are doing well."
The boss also reserved a word for Pepe Reina, who became the
fastest goalkeeper in Liverpool history to keep 100 clean
"Pepe is a fantastic goalkeeper," he said. "They had some
chances and he did well. He's beaten Ray Clemence's record
and I am really pleased for him, and also pleased because
these kind of saves can keep you in the game."
Benitez confirmed that Gerrard and Fernando Torres would now
leave for international duty.
The Spaniard hopes the enforced break from action will not
affect his side's momentum.
"If we can keep this momentum it will be good. Hopefully
after the international break the players will come back
with the same mentality and confidence," he said.
Liverpool could be top of the table before United kick
another Premier League ball - not that Benitez is looking
too far ahead.
"We have to win and after see the table. I prefer to talk
after the game. You can talk about doing this or that but
you have to win the game and then talk afterwards."
Meanwhile, Benitez began his press conference with a message
to the family of club secretary Bryce Morrison, who died
aged 57 yesterday.
He said: "First of all I want to give my sympathy to the
family of Bryce Morrison. He is a big loss and yesterday was
a sad day."
Gerrard inspires Reds rout
By Richard Bailey - Sky Sports
Steven Gerrard scored a hat-trick as
Liverpool stormed to a 5-0 win over out-of-form Aston Villa
to move up to second and within a point of leaders
The Reds skipper was involved from the off as he whipped in
a dangerous free-kick which found Xabi Alonso. His flicked
header came back off the bar and Dirk Kuyt was on hand to
drill home the opener after eight minutes.
Albert Riera made it two when he raced on to a long kick
from goalkeeper Pepe Reina 25 minutes later and Gerrard
claimed his first of the day when he converted a penalty on
39 minutes after Nigel Reo-Coker had felled Riera.
The hosts began the second half like they ended the first
with Gerrard grabbing his second five minutes after the
break when he placed a free-kick from just outside the box
past Brad Friedel.
The scoring was completed when Gerrard converted his second
penalty of the day on 65 minutes after Friedel had been
sent-off for bringing down Fernando Torres in the box.
Liverpool had Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa back from
respective ankle and hamstring injuries that ruled them out
of last weekend's win at Manchester United, with Sami Hyypia
and Lucas relegated to the bench.
They were joined there by defender Daniel Agger, who has
only played one game since mid-December after a variety of
Villa boss Martin O'Neill left out striker Gabriel
Agbonlahor, who has scored only twice since before Christmas
and was booed by his club's own fans last weekend.
Defender Zat Knight was also on the bench, with John Carew
and Curtis Davies back in the side.
There was still a solemn start to the proceedings, with a
minute's silence following the death yesterday of
56-year-old club secretary Bryce Morrison, after he had
flown back from the Champions League draw in Switzerland.
Morrison, who had worked at Anfield for 17 years, suffered a
heart attack at home. Both teams wore black armbands.
The game got off to a blistering start, and after eight
minutes Liverpool were ahead.
Alonso's header from Gerrard's free-kick cracked against the
bar, and Dirk Kuyt reacted quickest to blast the ball home
from 12 yards.
At the other end Ashley Young's cross arrowed in from the
left and Carew's flick at the near post almost caught out
Jose Reina - but the goalkeeper tipped the ball over the
The contest was ferocious, and Gerrard was then rightly
booked for a fierce, late, challenge on Davies.
Then Reina made another outstanding save to his left to claw
away a towering header from Carew - who played under Benitez
Liverpool were relentless and after 33 minutes they claimed
a second goal.
Reina's 80-yard clearance was allowed to bounce once on the
edge of the area by a Villa defence pre-occupied with Torres
and Riera took full advantage by smashing the dropping ball
high into the net.
It could have been three when Arbeloa intercepted a bad
Friedel clearance inside the Villa box, but he chose to pass
to Torres rather than shooting himself.
But the third was not long coming. After 39 minutes Riera
controlled a searching crossfield pass from Kuyt, and was
brought down in the box by Nigel Reo-Coker. Gerrard smashed
home the spot-kick.
Any thoughts of a Villa revival were crushed after 50
minutes when Carlos Cuellar brought down Kuyt on the edge of
the box and Gerrard drilled the free-kick low to Friedel's
left and into the bottom corner.
Former Reds striker Emile Heskey had a header held by Reina,
but was by now being employed on the left trying to halt
Arbeloa and Kuyt's flow down the flank - with Young switched
to a central attacking role.
The ploy did not last long - Agbonlahor replaced Heskey
after 58 minutes, with Young back on the line- but things
got worse for Villa after 63 minutes when
Friedel was dismissed for clashing with Torres and Gerrard
drilled home the fifth past Villa's reserve keeper Brad
Lucas, Agger and David Ngog replaced Alonso, Arbeloa and
Gerrard in the closing minutes of a comprehensive victory.