The picture we don't want to see. (Photo: Reuters)
Rush: Reds lost the chance
to put pressure on United
By Ian Rush - Liverpool Echo
Any team that comes away from Villa Park with
a point this season is not going to be disappointed – but I
can’t help but think that Liverpool missed a big opportunity
If they had won the game, they would now be five points
ahead of Manchester United and with the international break
that gap could not have been closed until the two sides meet
at Anfield on September 13.
It might still be early in the season and United do have a
game in hand, but they would not have wanted to come to
Anfield knowing that a defeat would leave them trailing by
Football at its very highest level is all about pressure,
and the best sides are the ones who can deal with it the
United have certainly not been found wanting in this
respect, but it would have been interesting to see how they
would have coped with the knowledge that they could lose
touch with the league leaders.
As it is, Liverpool did not do enough to beat Villa and that
means United will not be under quite as much pressure, and I
think that’s a shame.
Seven points from your first three games of the season is
always going to be a good return and there are plenty of
other teams in the Premier League who would love to have
made as good a start as Liverpool.
Even though they are nowhere near their best, they have
still managed to pick up points from some difficult games
and that is definitely a positive.
But if they had just gone for Villa a bit more at the
weekend I am sure they could today be boasting a maximum
points haul and be top of the league on their own instead of
sharing the leadership with Chelsea.
That is the next test for this Liverpool side and their
title credentials – they have to start going to tough away
grounds believing that they can win and doing everything
to do so.
Too many draws stopped them from mounting a proper title
challenge last season and they do not want the same thing to
happen this time around, but they are going to have to start
going for the jugular more if they are to turn draws like
Sunday’s against Villa into wins.
Why break can be fortunate for Rafa
Rafa Benitez is never usually happy when the international
breaks come around but I’m sure he’s quite relieved on this
Losing Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres to injury at the
same time is obviously a massive blow but at least the blow
is being softened by the fact that Liverpool do not have a
game for a couple of weeks because of the internationals.
The two-week break means Torres and Gerrard can work on
their recovery without missing games and hopefully they will
both be back sooner rather than later.
But even if either or both of them have to miss the
Manchester United game it is up to the other players to step
up and prove that Liverpool can win without their star duo.
When I was a player, Bob Paisley was always telling all the
lads at Liverpool that we had to make sure we were not found
wanting whenever chances came our way.
That meant that if someone got injured you had to come into
the side and do everything you possibly could to stay there.
That very same message will be being delivered by Rafa
Benitez to those players he feels can come in and do a job
if Torres and Gerrard are absent.
Reina is a class act
One of the big plus points to the way Liverpool have started
the season has been the form of Pepe Reina.
There were a lot of people who wondered whether he would be
good enough when he first moved to Anfield and I’ve got to
admit I was one of those people.
But since then Reina has got better and better and he is
undoubtedly one of the best around at the moment.
In the first few games of the season he has proved himself
to be a match winner and when you’ve got a keeper who can do
that it makes a massive difference.
Against Standard Liege he was Liverpool’s best player in
both legs and the saves he made were the difference between
going through or being knocked out.
Another thing I’ve noticed about Reina is how popular he
clearly is with his team mates.
I first picked up on it during Euro 2008 when he made sure
he looked out for all Spain’s players even though he wasn’t
in the starting line-up. No doubt he is exactly the same
with Liverpool and players like that are worth their weight
in gold when it comes to building team spirit.
missing in action
By Nick Smith - Liverpool Daily Post
It clearly wasn’t in Rafael Benitez’s
plans to get to one day from the end of the transfer window
and be watching Gareth Barry playing for the opposition.
But it was the players missing from his own squad that
proved the greatest frustration for the Liverpool manager at
Villa Park on the last day of August.
Steven Gerrard’s absence already assured Liverpool would be
suffering from a lack of creativity – but having to make do
for an hour with the one player who can make something
happen out of nothing left Benitez on a hiding to nothing.
And although in circumstances a draw can be considered a
decent result, it brings back bad memories of what cost
Liverpool a title challenge last season – settling for one
point when three were on offer.
A win would have given Benitez the boost of getting one over
on Martin O’Neill where it really matters – on the pitch.
If only events between the two clubs there could have been
half as feisty as they have been off it during this long,
But victory would have taken Liverpool top of the Premier
League on their own with three wins out of three.
And unlike the previous two successes this season, they
would have been easily forgiven for another below-par
performance if they had forced the decisive breakthrough
against a side like Villa.
The statement of intent that all title challengers want to
make would be there for all to see this morning.
Liverpool on top of the pile on their own and unable to be
shifted for at least another fortnight.
As it is, they stand vulnerably and unconvincingly shoulder
to shoulder with Chelsea having not been able to produce a
display that will inspire confidence that they will still be
alongside them come May.
And when Reo-Coker was shifted to right-back to allow James
Milner to make his second Villa debut, Benitez responded by
adding full-back Fabio Aurelio to the midfield battle.
It was all taking on a congestion of spaghetti junction
proportions and just made the likelihood of a 0-0
But at least that scoreline only reaffirms the one positive
constant running through Anfield this season and that is the
reliability of the defence and goalkeeper, having now only
conceded once in five competitive games this season.
Pepe Reina’s fine save from John Carew proved vital while
Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel expertly repelled perhaps
the most dangerous attacking line-up outside the top four.
Villa – six goals in their two previous Premier League
outings plus a glut in their UEFA Cup qualifiers – had
plenty of pace and passion but, like their visitors,
couldn’t transform it into anything that overly-worried the
And other things were just as predictable.
Such as the biggest cheers of the day being for Barry, the
biggest jeers for Benitez.
The Villa fans’ way of sticking one to Liverpool for the
apparently despicable way they tried to prise away their
Incidentally, the next loudest roar was for Milner, the same
supporters presumably having no problem with their club’s
pursuit of the winger to the point of him handing in a
transfer request to Kevin Keegan last week.
Double standards that perfectly sum up a tiresome transfer
Yet Barry has emerged from the whole saga relatively well
off out of it all.
He still has the adulation of the Birmingham faithful and
his desired move falling through doesn’t seem to have
affected his game.
Best of all, not being a Liverpool player spared him from
having to wear those hideous red stockings with his silver
It was Barry who opened up the Liverpool defence to create
the game’s first real chance after 35 uneventful minutes of
shadow boxing, setting Ashley Young free to tee up Carew,
whose low shot was well blocked by Reina.
Liverpool took 40 minutes to register their first meaningful
effort when Dirk Kuyt lashed into the side netting – but it
lifted his team-mates and Ngog was soon shaving the crossbar
after a deft touch by Keane put him free.
It was a spell that at least seemed to give Liverpool some
inclination that they could win the game and they came out
for the second half in a much more positive frame of mind.
Keane teed up Alonso for a shot deflected wide by Nicky
Shorey, then Brad Friedel had to tip Dossena’s dangerous
cross over the bar.
Keane then had an opportunity to find the net in August for
the first time in six years when he raced on to a long ball
but he fluffed the finish under pressure from Reo-Coker.
From that point, Villa looked the more likely as Milner
forced Reina into a sprawling save and a series of late
set-pieces also had the nerve ends jangling.
And as many have feared during Liverpool’s recent run of
late winners, when the standard of opposition was raised,
the chances of getting away with another ineffective
attacking showing would lower.
Which proved the case yesterday as Villa, with Martin
Laursen enjoying a much better afternoon than this time last
year when his own goal contributed to an opening day defeat
to the Merseyside men, found them all too easy to defend
All of which means it shouldn’t be too difficult for Benitez
to stop lamenting his side being without Barry – because the
players he has got are giving him plenty enough to worry
about at the moment.
The loss of Torres with a hamstring injury after half an
hour could still have major significance with Manchester
United the next opponents but it wasn’t the biggest problem
Indeed, his replacement David Ngog looked lively and almost
scored towards the end of the first half.
But the deadliest finisher in England might as well be
limping down the tunnel when he’s not being given anything
to finish off.
Once again, a chronic lack of options and ideas in the final
third paralysed Liverpool’s chances of getting among the
The return of Javier Mascherano and Lucas from the Olympics
couldn’t have been better timed but teaming them up with
Xabi Alonso in midfield again exposed a lack of width.
At one point, Mascherano stared into a gaping hole where
Albert Riera should be, realising all his team-mates were to
his right even though he was in the centre of the field.
Lucas had seemed to start on the left flank, then Robbie
Keane occasionally dropped in there to provide an outlet
before everyone seemed to abandon the idea all together.
All too narrow and negative to cause Villa any serious
For that reason, it wasn’t just the sight of Barry in a
Villa shirt that made Benitez envious.
Nigel Reo-Coker and Ashley Young proved the value of genuine
wide men with some electrifying breaks.
Their supply line was pretty well snuffed out on the whole
but they still showed up Liverpool’s lack of variety.
Delight at seeing Barry
line up against Liverpool FC
By Nick Smith - Daily Post
Martin O’Neill revealed his delight at
watching Gareth Barry take part in an Aston Villa versus
Liverpool fixture – in a claret and blue shirt.
It’s a scenario the Villa manager admitted he couldn’t
envisage for most of the summer, during which Liverpool have
relentlessly chased the midfielder.
Before yesterday’s stalemate, O’Neill walked over to shake
the hand of opposite number Rafael Benitez – who was
desperate to push the deal through before being denied the
funds to meet Villa’s asking price.
And O’Neill said: “I’m sure everything with Rafa will be
absolutely fine – until the next time! But no, I don’t think
anybody should be surprised I went across and did that.
“It’s gone as far as I’m concerned and I’m just so pleased
that Gareth is here. I wouldn’t be making any promises about
anything but he is here for the foreseeable future and I
hope he can now settle down a bit.
“He did very well because he’s had a lot to cope with in
recent weeks. But three weeks ago I envisaged he would be
playing against us today but that wasn’t to be.
“That’s great for us and our hope now is to get him back to
the form that took him close to getting the England
O’Neill also remarked on the close attention Benitez paid to
another of his prize assets – Ashley Young.
The left winger, whose manager values him at £30m, was
stifled in his creativity by Alvaro Arbeloa. O’Neill said:
“That is the biggest compliment Ashley could be paid.
“It was as if the right-back was told to just concentrate on
him and not do any covering. The other defenders seemed to
be saying, you take care of him and we’ll deal with
everything else. He should take that as a massive
O’Neill added: “It was a really tough game, but we expected
to create more chances than we have done. We kept a clean
sheet, which is unusual for us, but we are normally more
fluid than that.
“But having said that we probably carved out the best chance
with the best piece of football in the game, when John Carew
had a chance cleared off the line.
“But overall it was tough and I thought they have played to
get something out of the game and I thought our effort was
terrific. We kept going right to the end.
“We have a habit of scoring goals, but also letting a few in
at the other end, so I thought if we kept a clean sheet, we
would win – but it wasn’t to be. But we’ll learn a lot
because that’s a big, tough game for us, physically it was
demanding and we’ll have gained from that.”
The lingering bad feeling over the Barry saga led to Benitez
receiving a torrent of abuse from the Villa fans.
Benitez demands improvements
By Peter Fraser - Sky Sports
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez admits his
side need to improve if they are to develop into genuine
Premier League title contenders.
The Reds were held to an uninspiring 0-0 draw away to Aston
Villa on Sunday as Benitez's side lost their 100 per cent
start to the season.
And having received their perennial tip to end an 18-year
wait for a league title, Benitez confesses his team need to
up their game after failing to produce a shot on target at
"We were controlling and creating the opportunity for the
final pass," Benitez told Sky Sports 1. "We have to improve
the final pass and that could be the difference."
The improvement Benitez is keen to see could be provided by
the £8million arrival of Espanyol winger Albert Riera.
And Benitez is confident the deal will be completed before
the end of the transfer window on Monday and does not expect
to make any other new signings.
"I think so," said Benitez when asked if Riera will be
Liverpool's final new face of the transfer window. "He will
be a good addition. It is nearly done."
Liverpool's failure to trouble Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel
owed a lot to the first half injury of Fernando Torres.
The Spaniard suffered a suspected hamstring strain and is to
undergo a scan on Monday to determine the full extent of the
Benitez is already without captain Steven Gerrard, but he is
hopeful Torres will recover in time for Liverpool's next
Premier League outing, at home to Manchester United on 13th
"We don't know how long Torres will be out for yet," Benitez
told Liverpool's official website. "We'll have to wait for
the results of the scan on Monday.
"It could be he is out for seven to 10 days, but until he
has the scan we won't know."
Liverpool lost their 100 per cent start to
the season and missed out on the opportunity to move to the
top of the Premier League following a goalless draw at Aston
The Midlands encounter produced further disappointment for
Reds manager Rafa Benitez, who was already without sidelined
captain Steven Gerrard, as star striker Fernando Torres
sustained what appeared to be a hamstring injury in the
Three points would have seen Liverpool move to the top of
the table following Chelsea's draw with Tottenham, but
Benitez's side never truly looked capable of finding a
Villa also struggled and John Carew wasted the best chance
of the opening 45 minutes as the Norwegian striker fired
straight at Jose Reina from close range following good work
by Ashley Young.
Both sides came out with more intent after the interval, but
shots on goal remained at a premium as Robbie Keane wasted
an excellent chance to open his Liverpool account with 20
minutes remaining as he made a mess of things when through
The build-up to the game had been overshadowed by the
appearance of Gareth Barry, a summer transfer target of
Liverpool, but it was Martin Laursen who almost earned the
points for Villa as he headed narrowly wide in the closing
Benitez was met with a crescendo of criticism from Villa
fans when he made his way to the dug-out before shaking
hands with home manager Martin O'Neill, who he angered with
his pursuit of Barry.
But the game itself was mostly disappointing, with both
sides cancelling each other out and for long periods
adopting a safety-first approach until an exciting finale.
The first incident of note saw Liverpool defender Martin
Skrtel booked after 13 minutes for hauling back Carew on the
Liverpool suffered a setback after 27 minutes when striker
Torres pulled up sharply when chasing an innocuous-looking
pass and was immediately taken off.
It led to Benitez giving a debut to striker David Ngog, who
was signed from Paris St Germain earlier in the summer.
Then, after 35 minutes, Carew squandered the first clear-cut
chance when set up by Young.
Liverpool threatened for the first time when a deep cross
from Andrea Dossena was only headed by Nicky Shorey into the
path of Dirk Kuyt, but he shot into the sidenetting.
Then a superb reverse pass from Keane opened up the Villa
defence for Ngog and his left-footed curler was only inches
The visitors stepped up their game in the second half and
Keane teed up a shot for Xabi Alonso which was deflected
over Brad Friedel's bar by Shorey.
Then Friedel did well to tip over, at full stretch, a superb
cross on the run from Dossena.
Villa enjoyed pressure of their own and Curtis Davies made
good ground to get on the end of Young's free-kick but
summed up the game by heading the ball away from the