Djibril Cisse as good as booked his place in the starting line-up for Liverpool's Champions League final against AC Milan by scoring both goals - his first for eight months - as Rafael Benitez's team warmed up for Istanbul with victory.
Cisse, a £14 million arrival from Auxerre last summer, has rescued his season from the wreckage of a broken leg sustained against Blackburn last October.
The French forward had three screws inserted into the bone to stabilise an injury that had been expected to keep him out of action until August at the earliest.
Having stunned the medical staff at Anfield by returning four months ahead of schedule, as a substitute against Juventus a month ago, Cisse was handed his first start by Benitez since that October night at Ewood Park. With Milan Baros doing little to convince the Liverpool manager that he deserves to start against the Italians on May 25, Cisse's display suggested that he is now the favourite to start Liverpool's sixth European Cup final.
Benitez said: "It was good to see Cisse scoring two goals. It means that I now have two options for the final. I can play one striker, Cisse or Baros, or play both of them. Djibril has worked really hard in training to get fit. The only problem was whether he could play 90 minutes, but he has now done that."
Mark Delaney's foul on Cisse led to the penalty which the striker converted for his first goal since September. A run by Josemi eight minutes later created Cisse's second, when he side-footed past goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen from 10 yards to extend Liverpool's lead.
Villa raised their game after the interval and deservedly halved the deficit when Gareth Barry volleyed in from close range.
Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Carson; Josemi, Carragher, Pellegrino, Warnock; Nunez (Finnan 79), Alonso, Biscan (Hamann 70), Riise; Kewell (Baros 60); Cisse.
Subs: Dudek (g), Hyypia.
Goals: Cisse (pen 19, 27)
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; De la Cruz, Delaney, Laursen, Barry; Solano, Davis, Djemba-Djemba, Hendrie (Samuel 48); Vassell (L. Moore h-t), Angel (Cole 64).
Subs: Henderson (g), McCann.
Goal: Barry (67).
Referee: B. Knight (Orpington).
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited