After The Match 


Aston Villa-Liverpool 1-2 (0-1)        11.8.07                         PL
Goals: Laursen (30 og), Gerrard (87)    Barry (86 pen)
Team: Reina, Arbeloa, Agger, Carragher, Finnan, Riise, Alonso, Gerrand, Pennant, Kuyt, Torres
Subs: Babel (Pennant 73), Voronin (Torres 78), Sissoko (Kuyt 89)
Not used: Hyypia, Itandje
Yellow: Pennant (55), Reina (84)   
Melberg (26), Bouma (58), Bary (67), Petrov (89)
Red: None
Referee: Mike Riley
Attendance: 42,640
Shots on target: 4-5
Shots off target: 5-11
Blocked shots: 3-2
Possession: 50.8-49.2
Fouls conceded: 20-14
Corners: 4-2
Offsides: 3-1
Yellow: 4-2

HEADLINES "We were pleased with the first 60 minutes..."
   Steven Gerrard

1308: Gerrard: My goal could be season’s best
1308: Benitez brushing off early title talk
1308: Riise: Villa win shows we're a better team
1208: Dalglish sees away improvement
1108: O'Neill rues free-kick
1108: Gerrard delighted with good start
1108: Rafa: We showed great character
1108: Super Stevie puts Villa to sword

Gerrard: My goal
could be season’s best

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 Premiership campaign.

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 Gerrard.

“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 start.

“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 this league.

“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 well.”

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 plays.

“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 said.

“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 role.

“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 careful.

“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.”

Benitez 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 title contenders.

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 closer.”

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 had before.

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 Villa Park.

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 appearances.

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.”

Riise: 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 League title.

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 years.

And Riise insists the way in which the Reds bounced back from potential disappointment bodes well for the rest of the campaign.

"It was important to start the season well," Riise told "When they got the penalty and then scored it I thought 'here we go again' as there were only six minutes left.

"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 corner.

"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 going."

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 Magazine.

"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 defence.

"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."

O'Neill rues free-kick

Sky Sports

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."

Gerrard 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 Sunday.

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 themselves out."

Rafa: We showed great character

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 points.

"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 match.

"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 85th-minute penalty.

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 minutes remaining.

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 Gardner.

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.

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 the deadlock.

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 Reina.

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 Pennant.

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 first-time drive.

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.

backbutton.gif (1697 bytes)

Thor Zakariassen ©