Liverpool 3 Aston Villa 1: 'It's like Arsenal!'

Posted by Garstonite on October 28, 2006, 07:05:11 PM

As the team news was announced there was the odd groan around Anfield about a couple of issues. No out-and-out wide player, given the tediously dull Steven Gerrard – wide or central player – debate and the great performance given by Jermaine Pennant midweek. No Daniel Agger at the heart of the defence also had a few people questioning whether Hyypia could withstand the pace of Baros and Agbonlahor, too.

But the side was incredibly close to that which went on that great run from around this point in time until mid-January last term. And whilst the rotation policy was in full swing then as well, the core of players remained the same. The back-line had a solid feel about it and the midfield have been around long enough to acknowledge the discipline Benitez demands from his players, as well as having the flair, in both Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia, required to unlock a side. I will say proudly that I predicted the team correctly. The only reason I mention it is because it probably won’t happen for another four years.

Following the bad press Liverpool have had this week, quotes from anonymous board members, misinterpreted or not, helped towards a good atmosphere as Rafael Benitez’s name was chanted frequently throughout.

Despite fielding what seemed to be a very adventurous side, Villa came to stop Liverpool playing, above anything else, as they threw men forward cautiously.

Liverpool, as you may expect, started a lot better that their opponents. Xabi Alonso started off excellently and knocked the ball around effectively. Sissoko was the standard bearer, working hard against Villa’s industrious midfield which, from what I have seen of them, has been the key to their success this season.

The lack of mobility from corners - that we had in abundance from Daniel Agger and Gabby Paletta midweek - was frustrating. Peter Crouch tried to make things happen with some darting runs, but the ball seemed to be falling in the places he’d moved from. John Arne Riise fired a shot on the volley from a Luis Garcia corner, which went harmlessly over, in truth. A regular ploy that is rarely executed. Maybe one day he’ll break the net with one, but I’d still prefer a more conventional cross delivered.

The game continued and Villa couldn’t get hold of the ball. The referee didn’t seem to like Sissoko’s over-zealous nature and was a little whistle-happy, but it had Villa play-maker Stilian Petrov running scared and he was about as useful as a solar-powered torch. Gareth Barry, however, got himself stuck in and, if nothing else, made Steven Gerrard a little ineffective and halting attacks, by playing the ball back to Steve Finnan on a couple of occasions.

Liverpool made up with this with their verve and imagination and whilst we didn’t have much pace through the middle, our tempo had the likes of Mellberg and Ridgewell bowled over.

Despite dominating possession, we didn’t penetrate often enough, although Crouch went close with a header from a corner and John Arne Riise saw a shot from a free-kick go just over the bar. The crowd, whilst enjoying the pressure, had seen this happen all too often and not being clinical enough may have cost the Reds, as it has done at times this season. Luis Garcia had a shot from range which flew over Sorensen’s goal and suddenly, frustration was apparent in the f’ing and blinding from some quarters of the ground.

After thirty minutes though, Liverpool maintained their early authority and Jamie Carragher floated a ball to his central defensive partner Sami Hyypia, who had stayed forward following a set-piece, he won the knock down and Kuyt’s close control allowed him room to dart a shot low into the back of the net. 1-0 Liverpool and the fans moaning about the lack of attempts and whatnot were saying ‘well, it was only a matter of time’. Typical.

It was, of course, a fitting way to make his mark on a game that his father, recovering from life-saving surgery, was present at and his celebration was as joyous as ever.

The goal gave everybody a huge boost. The relief was illustrated in the noise-levels, which seemed to further invigorate those in Red, as the attacks had an element of arrogance. I’d rather over-play it, than under-play it, after all.

Kuyt’s goal seemed to have knocked a keystone out of Villa’s defensive wall and they were crumbling under the pressure they were under. Aston Villa tried to get forward in search of an equaliser as if their draws at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge gave them some sort of divine right to do so, but the backline was ruthless and spat everything back out that they threw into the proverbial fan. Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher looked as though they were back to their best and were the foundations on a wonderful fifteen minutes, in which we demonstrated some of the best attacking football Anfield had witnessed from Liverpool in a long while.

After witnessing Luis Garcia, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, the front two and, also, John Arne Riise in full flow, a bloke behind me, on the verge of orgasm shouted ‘it’s like Arsenal!’ Which I thought was great. Unlike the rest of the game, there seemed to be an end product just around the corner, too.

Steve Finnan picked up the ball on the right and whipped it low into the box. With four white shirts around the six yard box and the ball landing just behind Crouch, I fully expected the big man to hold the ball up and look for a runner, like the tank he sometimes is, with all due respect, but he turned round and connected with the ball in one fell swoop: an excellent strike from the big man, further silencing his critics, with his 8th goal in 14 games. 2-0.

A short while later, we were on the move again: Steven Gerrard this time was the instigator, as he made a diagonal run from the left, back-heeling the ball to Kuyt. The ball was played square to Crouch who saw the run from Garcia, charging in from the left. Just like Fowler did on Wednesday, Crouch made a return run, but Garcia slipped the ball underneath the advancing ‘keeper, showing similar ruthlessness to Crouch midweek. 3-0 and there was a party atmosphere around the ground. Despite being in comfortable positions against both Galatasaray and Reading this season, fans didn’t learn their lesson and the usual predictions of 5, 6 and even 7-0 rang around the area around me. Morons. I was far more realistic and went for a 5-2.

At half-time, my lack of inside pocket let me down, as my programme slipped into a puddle of, erm, something or other on the toilet floor. I duly binned it, so don’t worry.

Second half and Liverpool kicked on and worked hard. A clean sheet may have been paramount, but all fans wanted to put the wax on a wonderful paintjob. Aston Villa, with nothing to lose, went for an all or nothing double substitution, as Milan Baros who did nothing to convince anyone we were too hasty letting him go, went off for Chris Sutton and Angel, who continues to blow hot and cold, went off for Didier Agathe.

Whilst Villa seemed to get more of a grip on proceedings, they still failed to keep up with Liverpool as they entered the final third. Only some poor and unfortunate finishes let us down. Most notably was a chance which resulted in three of our players having a bite of the cherry, as Kuyt and Crouch scrambled and scuffed their opportunities, the ball came to Steven Gerrard who could have capped off a wonderful performance with a goal, but he struck the woodwork.

Villa’s defence looked vulnerable and with goals under their belts, Kuyt and Crouch, tried to capatilise on a number of occasions. It was Garcia who came the closest on two occasions. He missed both times, serving as an indication of the Mr Hyde of his game. However, without the little Spaniard’s involvement in the final third, our game may very well have suffered.

Chris Sutton, making a good impact defensively (from set-pieces) and in the attacking third, slipped the ball through to Gabriel Agbonlahor ten minutes after the interval and Liverpool’s inability to shut off games was apparent once again. The young Englishman looks to have a bright future ahead of him and, both on the right and in the centre, looked to punish our defence with his great pace. His finish was calmly taken, showing a composed nature to his otherwise unrestrained game.

Possession was imperative now for Liverpool. Fortunately, with Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard on the field, our senior players finally stepped up when it truly mattered. The Spaniard enjoyed his best game this season and kept our moves flowing, whilst breaking up the Midlanders game alongside Mohamed Sissoko, effectively, too. Steven Gerrard likewise had his best game of the campaign. He was the driving force in plenty of our attacks and sprayed some delightful balls across field, when play was too tight on our right hand flank.

Chris Sutton came close with a bullet header from a set-piece in a dangerous position, but all credit goes to Pepe Reina who has received a lot of criticism in recent weeks, from me included admittedly, as he pulled off a remarkable save, palming the ball away magnificently. Shortly after he made another smart stop, again from Sutton, and also connected with two or three punches brilliantly.

Jermaine Pennant came on for Peter Crouch in a substitution that was largely down to how Martin O’Neill had changed his side, which you must give him credit for, but taking off a striker didn’t have a negative effect on the side. Gerrard moved more centrally to play off Dirk Kuyt and Pennant was given license to get at the tired Villa defenders legs. Maybe he’s been encouraged to do so, but Pennant, in recent games, has been more disciplined with his positioning and hasn’t been sucked in to the middle as much, as the summer signing is finally getting some chalk on his boots.

Bolo Zenden, who replaced the tiring Luis Garcia, was like a bull in a china shop as he closed down gaps and fought doggedly to prevent Villa supplying their front men.

Our last substitute, Robbie Fowler, spent most of his time in our own half, as we tried to hang on for a comfortable victory, but in stoppage time, found himself in a glorious position. His shot, however, hit the wrong side of the net. Half the stadium thought it was in.

The final whistle went and whilst the result could have had a more resounding feel to it, nobody will complain. A result may always be the most important thing, but a performance that had fans on the edge of their seat will give a lot of people a reason to believe we can push on from this win and start climbing up the table.

Aston Villa’s unbeaten run ends, but Martin O’Neill can have no complaints. His side worked tirelessly, but it was all to no avail. I have a lot of respect for O’Neill, but I will admit that it was wonderful to witness a side that came and parked a bus in front of our goal, taken to pieces as they were today.

Man of the match: Xabi Alonso. Plenty of candidates today, but Alonso was the heartbeat of the team. Easily his best performance this season.

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