N’Gog 14, Babel 16, Maxi 55
ASTON VILLA 0
Gerard Houllier’s return to Anfield proved to be a night to forget for the Frenchman as his struggling Aston Villa team were comprehensively beaten by a Liverpool side without their talismanic trio of Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Fernando Torres,.
Houllier will be disappointed with the goals his side conceded in the first half; the first another goal from a set piece with Villa defending again at fault. The second, an arrowing low strike from Ryan Babel, should have been ruled out for offside. Despite these mitigating factors, Villa were well beaten. Liverpool out competed the Villains and with the game sealed up in the second half they were content to sit back and close the game out.
Houllier made serveral changes from side that lost to Birmingham in the League Cup mid week. Aston Villa were without Ashley Young, who was suspended and he was replaced by Marc Albrighton, returning from abdominal surgery. Elsewhere Stephen Ireland came into midfield in place of Barry Bannan. While up front Gabriel Agbonlahor was again preferred to John Carew.
Villa’s formation saw a slight adjustment, with Agbonlahor playing in a more isolated role up front, Ireland coming deep to link play in a system that looked more like a 4-5-1 than Villa’s usual 4-4-1-1. Wingers Albrighton and Stewart Downing regularly switched wings, but Albrighton in particular struggled to have any real influence on proceedings.
Liverpool were the brighter of the two sides from the first whistle. Their central midfield pairing of Raul Meireles and Lucas Leiva out battled Villa’s midfielders, and although the Villains played pretty football sporadically in the first half, they created very little. Liverpool’s early goals had stunned the visitors.
Aston Villa adjusted their system in the second half switching to a 4-4-2 formation with the introduction of Nathan Delfouneso. Villa raised the tempo and began to trouble the Reds with their fast breaks. Agbonlahor was guilty of missing the chance that could have got the Villain’s back in to contention. Downing swung in a low cross from the left that found the pacey striker, but Agbonlahor could only buddle the ball into the onrushing Pepe Reina. Seconds later Liverpool killed the game. Having made the save from Agbonlahor, Reina bowled the ball out and Liverpool broke quickly down the left flank, N’Gog was able find Maxi Rodriguez on the cut back, and the Argentinean coolly slotted home.
Having extended their led, Liverpool were happy to concede position to Villa and sit back and see the game out. Villa were a beaten team and Liverpool, ran out easy winners. After the game a dishearten Houllier admitted some of the problems facing his side: “Our confidence is low and we need to defend better,” he said. “Even I could see the second goal was offside, but it was the first goal that affected morale the most. We need to be mentally stronger.”
2 L. Young – 5 Dunne – 29 Collins – 3 Warnock
12 Albrighton – 28 Hogg – 9 Ireland – 21 Clark – 6 Downing
46 mins 14 Delfouneso on for 21 Clark
65 mins 8 Pires on for 12 Albrighton
10 Carew on for 11 Agbonlahor