Liverpool brush aside Aston Villa to move up to eighth
In the build-up to Monday night’s clash with Aston Villa Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson was faced with a major selection headache.
Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, the club’s captain and vice-captain, were both ruled out through injury while striker Fernando Torres pulled out of the squad at the final hour after his wife went in to labour.
Seemingly however this only served to motivate the Liverpool players named in the starting line-up, with Hodgson’s side putting in a convincing display to brush aside Gerard Houllier’s Aston Villa.
The first half saw Liverpool score two within five minutes thanks to the forward pairing of David N’Gog, who had only scored one league goal this season, and Ryan Babel, who was thrown into the side at the last minute to replace Torres.
N’Gog opened the scoring when Raul Meireles’s corner found Martin Skrtel who nodded to the Frenchman for the 21-year-old to head the ball past Brad Friedel.
A couple of minutes later Babel doubled Liverpool’s lead when he latched on to a well-placed through ball from Lucas Leiva before thundering towards goal and firing a low, drilled, effort straight into the back of the net.
It was left to Maxi Rodriguez to finish the game off early in the second half. The Argentine midfielder played the ball out left to N’Gog, who burst forward before dutifully returning the ball to Rodriguez for him to curl his shot past the advancing Friedel to end any chance of a Villa comeback.
For Liverpool supporters the performance will have been a breath of fresh air. Having seen their side sit back and absorb pressure many times over the course of the season tonight they witnessed a home side playing confident, attacking, football and allowing the Villa players little time when on the ball.
At the back the Reds were disciplined, with Glen Johnson and Paul Konchesky putting in solid displays on either side of the back four whilst Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos rarely allowed the visiting forwards a chance to test stand-in captain Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal.
Whilst the host’s performance was one of the best of their season, Houllier’s side offered little to trouble Liverpool. Gabriel Agbonlahor was left feeding off scraps up front, only once posing a major threat to the Liverpool goal when his effort forced a spectacular save from Reina.
In the middle and at the back the visitors lacked organisation, often giving away possession needlessly and failing to make the most of potential chances. They particularly lacked creativity in the middle of the park, with speculative long-balls too often being the order of the day as they looked for a way to break down the resilient Liverpool rear-guard.
For Liverpool, the three points sees them move up to eighth in the league with 22 points – just seven away from fourth-placed Manchester City.
As the game came to a close Houllier was treated to a rendition of his old song from the Kop – a sign of their gratitude to the man who brought a whole host of trophies to the club at the beginning of the decade. But as he left the dugout at a freezing Anfield he would have been left wondering what was next for him and Aston Villa who sit just two points off the relegation places.