By Chris Bascombe - Liverpool Echo
Steven Gerrard today acclaimed his first
goal of the season as potentially the most important.
Gerrard’s match-winning free-kick handed Liverpool the win
they craved as they seek early momentum for an improved
And the skipper says the celebrations which followed the 2-1
victory at Villa Park underlined how much it meant to all
the players to claim an elusive first day success – a feat
Rafa Benitez hadn’t enjoyed since arriving at Anfield.
“I was getting flashbacks to the Middlesbrough game two
years ago both from a personal and team point of view,” said
“I had a load of chances to score, just like in that game,
and the one worry when all the celebrations died down is we
know we should have had the game won earlier.
“But the main thing is we did win and deserved it. The
performance was, at times, very good.
“I know it’s early but I hope it turns out to be one of the
most important goals this season because all the lads have
been saying through pre-season how much we wanted a good
“To have not won that game would have been devastating for
us after the way we played, but now we feel we can build
some momentum, and that’s been shown to be so important in
“You just can’t afford to fall behind to the leaders like we
have in the past.
“That’s why you could see how much it meant to us to win and
we were buzzing in the dressing room afterwards.
“It was pleasing to see so many good all-round performances
on Saturday. Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel did really
Gerrard’s midfield role has been the subject of much
discussion already, but he believes Benitez will continue to
get the right tactics when it counts, no matter where he
“To be honest, I don’t think all the focus on whether I play
in the middle is fair on me, the team or the manager,” he
“Whether I play in the centre or on the right, I’ll always
continue to work as hard as I can for the team. What’s most
important to me is the manager trusts me to play in the
middle, and we all trust him to make the right choices for
the balance of the side.
“I know there will be times when he’ll think Xabi and me
playing together is the best option, and occasions when
he’ll use others there and may ask me to do a different
“The manager has said we’ll be more positive, but we know
that may make us weaker at the back, so we have to be
“It’s not just about going all out attack every week against
every team, but getting the balance right.
“A different system will suit different teams. Everyone
understands that, so different personnel will be used
throughout the season.”
brushing off early title talk
By Nick Smith - Liverpool Daily Post
Rafael Benitez has admitted that it’s too
early to judge if his team has transformed into genuine
Liverpool secured their first opening-day three points since
winning at Villa Park five years ago, with victory on the
same ground on Saturday.
A sublime Steven Gerrard free-kick three minutes from time
gave them a 2-1 win just moments after Vila seemed to have
rescued a point through Gareth Barry’s penalty.
After waiting until December for his first Premier League
away win last season, Benitez was delighted to get off the
mark at the first time of asking on Saturday evening.
But he reckons whether this season follows a different
pattern to the previous campaign will be clearer after their
home game with Chelsea next Sunday.
“I have to see the difference when we play Chelsea or when
we play other top teams,” said Benitez. “Judging on one game
is not enough but it was important to see that I could
change players and improve.
“We showed we could play but you really need to see the team
after two or three months. For me, one game winning or
losing doesn't make that much difference.
“Losing would mean more pressure and more people talking but
we need to analyse the next two months.
“Can we get closer to the top two? We would have to do
everything almost perfect and we will try to do that.
“We will try not to make too many mistakes and see if we are
Liverpool’s chances of losing the same amount of early
ground on the top two have however, been considerably
reduced by the events of the opening weekend.
Chelsea also kicked off with a win yesterday, beating
Birmingham City 3-2, but Manchester United dropped two
points to Reading, being held to a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.
And Benitez accepts that he is under pressure to close the
gap after his summer spending.
He added: “We have spent more money than before because we
needed to improve the squad. They must be favourites but we
will try to be closer.
“I’m not saying we don't want to win or that we won't be
under pressure. We know we will be under pressure because we
have a better team but they also have better teams than they
We need to keep working and see what happens but I have
confidence, for sure.”
Benitez had one eye on the Champions League third qualifying
round first leg tie in Toulouse when he omitted Peter
Crouch, Harry Kewell and Yossi Benayoun form the squad at
Javier Mascherano, still catching up on pre-season after his
Copa America exploits with Argentina, was also left out
while Ryan Babel and Andriy Voronin made late substitute
It left record signing Fernando Torres as the only starter
making his LIverpool debut and Benitez explained: “The idea
was to start the season with players who had experience of
the Premier League
“If you bring in a lot of new players and you start playing
with them then you don’t know if they will settle in
“I wanted players with experience to approach this game with
the character that was needed but I could bring on the new
players if needed.”
Villa win shows
we're a better team
By Paul Eaton - LFC Official Website
John Arne Riise believes Steven Gerrard's dramatic late
winner at Villa Park on Saturday is a sign the Reds are
better equipped than ever to challenge for the Premier
Gareth Barry's 84th minute penalty looked set to deny Rafael
Benitez's men three well deserved points - but just a minute
after losing the lead Gerrard curled home a stunning free
kick to give Liverpool their first opening day win in five
And Riise insists the way in which the Reds bounced back
from potential disappointment bodes well for the rest of the
"It was important to start the season well," Riise told
liverpoolfc.tv. "When they got the penalty and then scored
it I thought 'here we go again' as there were only six
"For us to come back and win the game shows that we are a
different team and better prepared this year. Hopefully we
can keep going from here now.
"We knew we needed to make a good start and we were aware
the press and the people around us were talking about it. We
should have killed the game off before they made it 1-1 but
the fact we still won the match says everything about the
character in the squad."
While the Reds turned in a more than encouraging first day
display at Villa Park, Riise acknowledges it was a moment of
magic from the skipper which ultimately secured the victory.
"It was an unbelievable free kick from Stevie," he added.
"That is why he's our best player and one of the best
midfield players in the world. The best players can do these
kind of things. You couldn't have even placed it in that top
"I said to him after the game that I don't even do that in
training and there he is doing it in a match like that.
There's only one person who could have done that at that
time and it was him.
"The most important thing on the day was to get the three
points and we did that. It makes the game against Chelsea
next weekend even bigger now to see if we can keep it
Dalglish sees away improvement
By Jimmy Rice - LFC Official Website
Kop legend Kenny Dalglish believes Rafa
Benitez is finding the right formula to turn Liverpool into
a formidable force away from home.
The Reds, who had to wait until December for their first
away win last season, brought all three points back from
Villa Park on the opening day of this campaign.
Dalglish claims he's seen signs over the past few weeks to
suggest Saturday's result won't be a one off.
"I think already you can see that Rafa is trying to put
pressure on teams higher up the pitch," The King told LFC
"We're closing down much higher up the pitch than we have in
the past, and the result is that if you then force the
opposition to give away possession, you do so in an area
where you're much more likely to hurt them."
Meanwhile, Dalglish believes Andriy Voronin is the type of
player Liverpool have been missing for several years.
He said: "He looks like the kind of player we've needed for
a while. He's got the vision and ability to unlock a packed
"He takes up clever positions and finds holes where you
don't think there are any. On a Bosman, he already looks
like a bargain buy."
Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill was
unhappy with referee Mike Riley at the conclusion of his
side's opening day defeat to Liverpool.
O'Neill feels the award of the free-kick which Steven
Gerrard dispatched with just minutes remaining, to secure a
2-1 victory, was given somewhat cheaply.
The Ulsterman felt Gerrard won the free-kick, rather than
earned it, although he was willing to concede Liverpool
looked dangerous on the counter-attack throughout.
"I just think (Gerrard) has overrun the ball and he has
played for the free-kick. I don't think it was a foul,"
O'Neill told Setanta.
"(Petrov) has tried to get the ball himself, but it doesn't
matter what 42,000 people think, the referee has given a
free-kick and he has scored from it, so it is disappointing
as far as we were concerned.
"We started off wanting to be as bright as they are. But
when they scored the goal we lost a wee bit of self-belief
and we were chasing the game, so I was pleased to come in
just a goal behind.
"In the second half we matched them but there was always the
possibility of them hitting us on the break."
delighted with good start
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard welcomed
a winning start to the Premier League season after his
free-kick sealed a 2-1 win at Aston Villa.
The Reds grabbed a first-half lead after half an hour
through a Martin Laursen own goal when the defender turned
in Dirk Kuyt's cut-back, but Villa levelled with a Gareth
Barry penalty five minutes from time after Jamie Carragher
handled in the box.
However, the visitors were not to be denied when Gerrard was
fouled by Stiliyan Petrov 25 yards out and the England star
curled in a stunning set-piece.
Gerrard admitted the focus in pre-season has been on making
a strong start in order to keep up with expected early
pace-setters Manchester United and Chelsea, who both play on
He told Setanta Sports: "Over the last few seasons we have
been frustrated with the start we've made, we've lost silly
points and been playing catch-up, the idea this time is to
come out of the blocks quickly and stay in the title race.
"We were pleased with the first 60 minutes, I thought we
controlled the game. Villa came back into the game but we
managed to pull it out of the bag late doors."
Asked about his free-kick, Gerrard added: "It's about time
the lads let me take one, I managed to catch one right
today, but the most important thing was three points.
"It was a great three points and nice to go into the Chelsea
game with three points on the board."
Villa were unhappy with the free-kick award, but Gerrard
said: "These things happen and some decisions you get, some
you don't. I'm sure over season decisions will even
Rafa: We showed
By Steve Hunter - LFC Official Website
Rafael Benitez was full of praise for the
resilience and character of his Liverpool team after the
Reds won their opening Barclays Premier League match 2-1
against Aston Villa at Villa Park.
Captain Steven Gerrard was the hero when he netted the late
winner from a stunning free-kick to give the Reds all three
"We deserved to win the game and it was a special goal from
Gerrard," enthused Benitez.
"We showed great character after Villa were given a penalty
and we kept going forward and got the goal. It was important
for us to win the first game.
"I know we created a lot of chances but you have to say the
Villa goalkeeper was really good and he was the man of the
"I thought Torres did well and worked hard and his
understanding with Kuyt was really good."
Super Stevie puts
Villa to sword
Steven Gerrard's superb free-kick and Martin
Laursen's own goal ensured a 2-1 victory for Liverpool on
the opening day at Aston Villa.
Villa looked to have rescued a point when skipper Gareth
Barry cancelled out Laursen's first-half own goal with an
But then Gerrard curled a 20-yard shot past the dive of
Stuart Taylor barely 60 seconds later, after the referee
harshly ruled he had been brought down by Stiliyan Petrov.
Overall Liverpool were worthy winners with record signing
Fernando Torres making a satisfactory debut despite spurning
a golden first-half opportunity.
The £20.2million capture from Atletico Madrid linked up
effectively with Dirk Kuyt before being taken off with 11
But man of the match for the umpteenth time was England
midfielder Gerrard who exerted so much influence over
proceedings even before his goal while Jamie Carragher
excelled at the heart of the Liverpool defence.
If Benitez could have hand-picked a first day opponent it
would surely have been Villa given they have not beaten the
Reds in front of their own fans for nine years.
Villa huffed and puffed with Barry outstanding in midfield
but they seldom tested Jose Reina until he turned over an
injury-time John Carew header.
Villa made a bright start in front of a capacity 43,000
crowd and Reina had to be alert to deal with a stinging
30-yard volley from makeshift Villa right-back Craig
Carragher showed his class and awareness to block a shot
from Carew at the expense of a corner after he had been
played in by Gardner.
But Liverpool gradually took command and Torres had his
first half-chance after 17 minutes when he blazed over the
bar from a narrow angle following a long clearance by Reina.
Taylor parried a low Gerrard drive and a superb pass from
the England midfielder was seized on by Kuyt but he
hesitated instead of shooting first time.
Villa central defender Olof Mellberg became the first player
to be booked after 26 minutes for a clumsy challenge on
Torres showed his class when he outstripped Mellberg to find
himself with only Taylor to beat. But the Spaniard screwed
his shot across the face of goal.
Increasing pressure from the visitors paid off in the 36th
minute although it needed an own goal from Laursen to break
Taylor did well to parry a Torres effort but Kuyt managed to
cut the ball back into the danger area from the by-line and
the unfortunate Laursen only succeeded in lofting the ball
into the roof of the net.
Gerrard curled a shot just over the bar after Pennant found
him in plenty of space and the visitors were carving gaps in
the Villa defence almost at will.
When Villa did venture forward, Barry played in Petrov but
his left-footed drive lacked conviction and flew straight at
O'Neill made a half-time substitution, replacing Laursen
with Gary Cahill although it was not known whether it was
tactical or because he had suffered a knock.
Villa tried to build up some momentum and Nigel Reo-Coker
tried his luck from the edge of the Liverpool box but
dragged his shot well wide.
Pennant became the first Liverpool player to be
yellow-carded after 55 minutes for a challenge on Young.
The out of sorts Bouma was then booked for a late tackle on
Villa were still struggling to create any openings and it
needed a brilliant block from Gardner to prevent Gerrard
doubling Liverpool's lead.
Kuyt made good ground down the right and squared the ball
across goal to his unmarked skipper who struck his shot
cleanly enough but Gardner threw his body in the way to stop
a certain goal.
Gerrard was denied again when Taylor turned aside his fierce
Villa looked to have rescued a point with four minutes
remaining when Barry converted a penalty after Carragher had
handled in the box.
But the Villa celebrations had not died down when Gerrard
restored Liverpool's lead within 60 seconds.