Dirk Kuyt celebrates Liverpool's first goal vs Villa.
Time for Benitez to put
his trust in winning side
By Mark Lawrenson - Daily Post
It's no coincidence that Liverpool played their best
football of the season against Aston Villa on Saturday.
Because it was their best XI that went out onto the pitch.
And it's the team that Rafael Benitez should now stick with
- both for tonight's Champions League game with Bordeaux and
Saturday's Premiership home game against Reading.
In all honesty, we know there will be one or two changes
because that's the way Benitez likes to do it and I'm sure
his 100th consecutive game without naming an unchanged
line-up is only hours away.
It's not that me, or anyone else (aside from one unnamed
director but we'll get to that in a bit), has a problem with
the Liverpool manager.
I just think supporters like to see a settled XI playing for
a few weeks.
Look at the four away games Liverpool have lost.
They sent out different teams for each of them and none of
those were what you'd consider their strongest line-up.
Everton, Chelsea, Bolton and Manchester United away are all
very tough games and Liverpool got nothing out of them.
As a result, the chances of winning the title are all but
over even at this early stage.
And next up away from home is Arsenal, so I would have
thought that going there with the best XI is the best chance
of getting something from such a big game. It's a
All of which means, of course, Steven Gerrard staying on the
But I'm right behind Benitez on this one.
If everyone is playing well, knocking the ball around like
they did against Villa, Gerrard is able to come inside and
join in as he likes.
When the combination is right, I don't think playing Gerrard
on the right hand side is a problem at all.
As for the rest of the team, not many can argue that Finnan
and Riise as full-backs with Hyypia and Carragher in the
middle is the strongest back four.
Then the midfield, with Sissoko and Alonso dictating things
in the middle and Garcia coming in from the left to link
with the attack is Liverpool's most dangerous option on that
side - proven by that superb third goal he scored on
Up front, well I don't think anyone would complain which
combination Benitez went with from week to week.
Kuyt and Crouch looked good on Saturday, but even one of
those alongside Bellamy would still be dangerous.
Fowler is looking sharp at the moment, but is more likely to
be seen in the final 20 minutes.
So out of 20 or more players available for first team
selection there's 12 there that I reckon should be stuck
with at the moment.
If it doesn't work, then is the time to change it.
But following a performance like that against Aston Villa
Wounded lion roars
with proud response
By Chris Beesley - Daily Post
Whether you're playing in the Premiership or the Sunday
League, managers will tell you that a team's quality and
character can be measured by how they bounce back from
a disappointing result.
It doesn't get much lower for Liverpool than being outplayed
by Manchester United in a defeat that leaves them with half
as many points as the Red Devils.
So it was imperative against Villa that Rafael Benitez's
side showed a response following their Old Trafford
disappointment six days earlier.
In that respect, it was mission accomplished as Liverpool
produced their best performance to date of a season that has
so far flattered to deceive.
Martin O'Neill's Aston Villa arrived at Anfield as the only
unbeaten side left in English football but they returned to
the West Midlands with their tails between their legs and
plenty to think about after having their proud record
vanquished in style by a team that finished them off with a
three-goal blitz in 14 minutes before the interval.
The reason that Liverpool's defeat at Old Trafford hurt so
much - apart from the obvious reason that it was against
their old foes - was the fact that it left them 11 points
adrift of the Premiership summit and no doubt painfully
aware of their current shortcomings when it comes to
mounting a serious title bid.
Benitez must so far be judged a success by anyone's
standards after bringing home silverware in both of his
first two campaigns - in the shape of the Champions League
and the FA Cup.
But while his triumph in Istanbul brought a trophy that is
the greatest prize in club football, it is perversely more
difficult to become champions of England than of Europe due
to the knockout format of the continent's premier
Back in the days when the Reds won their first four European
Cups, they actually had to win their domestic league first
just to gain entry.
And they did, with recordbreaking regularity. That was only
a generation ago but in football terms it may as well be a
Saturday's opponents Aston Villa lifted the European Cup in
1982, thanks to a goal from Liverpool-born Peter Withe on
the back of claiming their seventh League Championship - but
first for 71 years - 12 months earlier, in a season in which
they incredibly used just 14 players.
Rafael Benitez, who named a different side for the 99th
consecutive time on Saturday, clearly thinks that rotation
is the key to success in the 21st century game but for all
his chopping and changing, you could make a strong argument
that when he shuffled the pack against Villa, he came up
with his strongest combination and it gave him a winning
While Daniel Agger and Gabriel Paletta are exciting
prospects for the future, when everyone is on form, you'd
expect the back five to be Reina, Finnan, Riise, Hyypia and
Carragher - but that's not where the Spaniard does the bulk
It's in midfield and up front where you'd struggle to second
guess Benitez's selections.
There's the age-old argument of where best to put Gerrard
but the presence of Sissoko and Alonso perhaps suggest that
it's best for the team to keep the skipper on the right
while Luis Garcia is often most comfortable when operating
on the left flank.
In attack, both Kuyt and Crouch netted and that's the first
time a Liverpool strike partnership has done so in the same
game this season.
However, you'd still be a brave man to suggest that the same
combination will take to the Anfield pitch against Bordeaux
tomorrow night. That's Benitez's style - and despite the
voice of discontent from an unnamed Liverpool director last
week, he's not for turning.
The Reds have not looked vulnerable at Anfield for a long
time and with home games against Reading, Manchester City
and Portsmouth on the horizon they shouldn't be troubled
It will be away at Arsenal and Middlesbrough that will gauge
just where they're now up to.
Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt has admitted that Saturday's
goal against Aston Villa was extra special - because his
father was at Anfield to see it.
The Dutchman's father, who recently underwent a
life-threatening operation to cure cancer, saw his son net
in the 3-1 win.
Kuyt said: "He's doing very well after the operation. It was
a big operation, but he's recovering well.
"He's been a big inspiration for me. He's always been like
that, now even more so because it was such a big operation.
I have a lot of respect for him.
"It was great to have all the family here and great to
score, especially when he's here. It was a good moment.
"It was an important win to give the crowd something. The
first half was really great and we could have scored one or
two more goals, but 3-1 is still a good result.
"There's Bordeaux then Reading to come, and it will give us
more confidence to win those games."
best I've played against
By John Atkin - LFC Official Website
Aston Villa captain Gareth Barry believes Liverpool
played some of the best football he has ever faced on
The left winger admitted his side couldn't get near the Reds
in a first half which ended 3-0 to the home side.
"You've got to give credit to Liverpool, first half. That's
some of the best football I've played against, like the
Liverpool name, pass and move," he said.
"We struggled to get near the ball in the first half and,
when we did, credit to them for closing us down."
Barry also reckons it is only a matter of time before the
goals start flying in for Steven Gerrard, who has yet to
break his duck this season.
He said: "I'm sure once one goes in, the rest will flood in
"The rest of his game is still there. You saw the work-rate
and the spirit he's got, and the way he's captain of a big
club like Liverpool.
"The whole team follows him. If he plays well, the whole
team do likewise.
"And I was bit relieved I wasn't left-back today."
win pleases Momo
By Al Campbell - LFC Online
Liverpool's impressive win over Aston Villa yesterday was
pleasing to midfielder Momo Sissoko.
Yesterday's excellent performance against previously
unbeaten Villa was the perfect tonic for the Reds after last
week disappointing display at Old Trafford. Momo Sissoko
believes yesterday's performance can be a springboard for
"Yes it was a good win, especially coming so soon after the
difficult match at Manchester United," said the Mali
"It was good to get back to winning ways in the Premiership.
Everybody played well. It was a good team performance and
afterwards the gaffer was happy.
"It's important for everybody; the players, supporters and
management that we try to win every game. That is our number
"This Liverpool team is better than last year and our aim
now is to get back into the top four of the Premiership and
continue to progress in the Champions League. To do that we
need to keep working hard and keep improving."
Martin O'Neill was generous in his praise of Liverpool,
after seeing them bring to an end Aston Villa's unbeaten
start to the season, with a 3-1 defeat at Anfield.
'I thought they were absolutely splendid,' O'Neill told Sky
'We didn't play well and that doesn't help of course, but
they were absolutely splendid.
'They knocked it about terrifically and their form at
Anfield is absolutely magnificent.
'We could have helped ourselves a bit and we tried to in the
second half. We got back into the game 3-1, but in the 90
minutes it was a lesson for us.
'We are aspiring to where Liverpool are, but that will take
Despite the result, O'Neill was pleased with the response he
got from his players at the interval.
'We wanted to have a go,' he added.
'I'm not really worried about damage limitation. Okay I
suppose if you're going to get beat seven, eight or nine it
might not read too well but there was no point.
'We had a lot of travelling fans there who were wanting to
see better than we did in the first half.
'I think they got that and we kept going right to the death.
So if there was any sort of crumb of comfort it was that in
the last few minutes Liverpool were trying to keep
possession and prevent us from getting that second goal to
give them a nervy time.'
Benitez: That proves a point
Rafael Benitez saluted Liverpool after they bounced back
from a disastrous defeat at Manchester United to end Aston
Villa's unbeaten run with a 3-1 Anfield victory.
The Liverpool chief has come in for some criticism from
within his own boardroom, but said: "After what happened at
Old Trafford we had to show people we have good players
"The first half was as good as anything we have produced
this season, apart maybe for the first 30 minutes against
"We started with a high tempo and maintained it. And the
players were able to give the fans what they wanted.
"The players were able to enjoy their skills and they came
in at half-time knowing they had played well.
"The second half was a little more difficult, Villa came
back at us, but we were able to control the situation and
make sure we took the points.
"Basically the players enjoy being able to show people what
they can do."
He added: "We showed we have quality and if we can play
consistently like we played in this game then I believe we
will soon be much higher in the table.
"This win will give us more confidence going into the
Champions League game against Bordeaux on Tuesday. The lads
knew they were reaching the right levels."
Liverpool, though, have doubts about the fitness of Mohamed
Sissoko and Steven Gerrard, who both picked up ankle
injuries in the second half.
best display of the season
By John Sinnott - BBC Sport Online
Liverpool produced their best display of the season to
hand Aston Villa their first league defeat of the campaign.
The home side were 3-0 up at half-time, Dirk Kuyt volleying
Liverpool in front, before Peter Crouch added the second
with another first-time effort.
Steven Gerrard, Kuyt and Crouch then linked to set up Luis
Garcia, who slipped the ball under Thomas Sorensen.
Early in the second half Gerrard hit the post before Gabriel
Agbonlahor's incisive finish reduced the deficit.
The frustration for Villa was that until that mini
second-half revival they were unable to show the form that
had brought them to Anfield unbeaten in their previous nine
But they can have few complaints at the half-time scoreline
after failing to establish any sort of connection with their
forwards Juan Pablo Angel and former Liverpool striker Milan
Liverpool proved much more adept at finding their forwards
Kuyt and Crouch.
Kuyt had missed an early chance after Garcia had crossed,
while Crouch went close with a downward header.
John Arne Riise then tried his luck with a couple of
Liverpool finally found the solution to turning possession
into goals on 31 minutes.
Kuyt's goal came from an unusual source - Liverpool's
central defensive partnership of Jamie Carragher and Sami
Carragher's flighted pass was headed on by Hyypia to Kuyt,
who after controlling the ball on his chest, arrowed a
volley past Sorensen.
Steve Finnan picked up the attacking baton from his fellow
defenders to help create Liverpool's second.
Liverpool had kept possession well before Kuyt played the
ball out to Finnan, who swung in a cross from the right.
As the ball came into the box Crouch extended his right leg
to guide a volley down and past Sorensen.
If Liverpool's opening two goals had owed much to the
attacking play of their defenders, the home side's third saw
their forwards combine in a flowing move.
Gerrard, Kuyt and Crouch swiftly exchanged passes on the
edge of the Villa box to set up the marauding Garcia, who
Soon after the break Gerrard came close when he rattled the
post after Villa failed to clear the ball.
But Agbonlahor's goal gave Liverpool a real jolt.
Agbonlahor broke clear of the Liverpool defence to collect a
pass from Chris Sutton, who was one of two substitutions
made by Martin O'Neill at the start of the second half after
Villa's lacklustre performance in the opening period.
Sutton came desperately close to scoring his first goal for
Villa when his flicked header was superbly tipped away by
The former Celtic striker then tried to turn a Steve Davis
shot past Reina.
Garcia might have had a second goal after he collected a
pass from Gerrard, but the Spaniard put the ball the wrong
side of the post.
In stoppage time substitute Robbie Fowler came close to
scoring on his 350th appearance for Liverpool.