Club Focus – Liverpool – Reds through with game to spare

Liverpool qualified for the knock-out stages of the Europa League thanks to a 1-1 draw against Steaua Bucharest. The Reds have won Group K with a game to spare and can now look forward to participating in the more fascinating half of the competition.

Joe Cole made his long-awaited return to a starting line-up which lacked Liverpool’s star names. Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were injured, whilst the likes of Meireles, Torres and Maxi Rodriguez were rested. Roy Hodgson gave his fringe players some game time and it was two of them who combined to score the first goal, with Serbian Milan Jovanovic heading in from a Ryan Babel cross.

The Reds were pulled back in the second half though, as standby captain Jose Reina made a fatal error which allowed Bonfim to score the equaliser. However, the draw was enough to send Liverpool through and the manager was happy with the performance of what was largely a second string side away from home.

Hodgson said: “I am very happy. Happy most of all the team we had confidence in to take on this tough task of facing Steaua were able to produce the performance, and get the result we needed.” He added: “It’s good for me to know the work we’re doing day in, day out on the training field is having some effect and the players are getting more and more comfortable with what we’re trying to do, even those that maybe don’t play every week.”

The Reds have done well in Europe so far this campaign, however their league form has been worrying. Hodgson’s men were beaten at White Hart Lane last weekend thanks to a last gasp goal from Aaron Lennon – and the Reds must now beat Aston Villa at Anfield in order to keep within touching distance of the top-four. The visit of Villa sees the return of Frenchman Gerard Houllier, who delivered a treble for the Reds during his spell at Anfield.

Villa will be relieved that Steven Gerrard is missing out for the home side. Gerrard has scored nine goals against the clarets – more than he has managed against any other side. However, Houllier’s men hardly win away from home – they have won just one of their last eight away league matches. Villa do not tend to beat the Reds very often either with just one win in their last seventeen meetings, however Liverpool appear to be very vulnerable this season and Carragher’s absence may affect their chances of keeping that record intact.

Nevertheless, Fernando Torres’ presence should lift the fans as his goal return at Anfield is spectacular. The Spaniard has bagged 44 goals in 48 home appearances and with Gerrard missing; Torres could be the key with which to unlock the Villa defence. Although a win is by no means certain for Hodgson’s inconsistent side, it is definitely possible, particularly with Liverpool going in to this game on the back of European progression.

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