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Reds show Angel mercy

ASTON VILLA tried to sign God, settled for an Angel, but must now be praying for a messiah after being comfortably beaten by buoyant Liverpool on Saturday.

You had to feel sorry for Juan Pablo Angel.

Villa's £9.5m signing was welcomed to Villa Park by a half empty stadium as irate punters sought refuge in a pint and pie.

In their wisdom, Villa officials decided to wait until half-time before introducing their new man to his public. They must have thought the home crowd would be whipped into a frenzy by then.

They were half right.

Seconds earlier, his team mates were booed off after being outplayed and outclassed. What an ironic twist it would have been had a certain Robbie Fowler been expected to perform the same routine?

Perish the thought.

The chances of Fowler joining Villa were always "slim" and "none".

Doug Ellis' leaking of news of an enquiry for Fowler and eventual signing of Angel turned the protest banners into a ticker-tape welcome.

Fowler made it to Villa Park - still a Liverpool player and with his own disciples still chanting his name. But as usual, there is a tendency to talk about the Liverpool players who weren't on the pitch rather than those who were. That's unfair on those who performed superbly on the day. Surely it's better to congratulate those who did play rather than linger on the fact others didn't?

That said, the bold line-up put extra pressure on the team to get a result. One can imagine the reaction had Liverpool not played well on Saturday. The team selection would have been crucified. So let it be said now, the line-up at Villa Park was the right one.

When the team wins, it's always right.

Many experienced judges suspect Jari Litmanen could be the "missing link man" Liverpool need. The Sheringham/Yorke/Bergkamp figure who has the vision and skill to think one yard ahead of the rest of the players on the pitch. Gerard Houllier even mentioned his name in the same breath as Eric Cantona after this match, and he should know.

In a 70-minute masterclass, Litmanen offered an exciting glimpse of why his signing could take Liverpool to an extra level. This was the best passing performance the team has produced all season. The passing and movement in midfield was precise, fast, forward thinking and clinical.

Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Danny Murphy found Litmanen always available and his flicks and reverse balls kept finding their target.

When Liverpool attacked on the break, they often needed just four passes to get from one end of the pitch to the other.

Villa were chasing shadows.

The Reds needed a slice of Villa ineptitude to take the lead.

David James told the world on Saturday morning his career would have stood still if he'd stayed at Anfield.

On this evidence, Liverpool would have gone backwards had they kept him.

Alpay cleared a hopeful ball as James failed to shout it was his property, but Murphy still had plenty to do to finish.

As the ball fell to him, the midfielder's instant shot hit the post but the rebound was gobbled up with glee.

James and Alpay exchanged blows as Liverpool celebrated. They can expect heavy punishment from John Gregory.

Don't worry though, more reports about how James is so much better since he left Liverpool can only be weeks away. From this angle, the mistakes are as frequent as ever.

Liverpool ran the game after that and scored a sublime second on 32 minutes. It was a goal which was typical of some the moves they'd created. Litmanen's capacity to place a ball through the eye of a needle was in evidence as he spotted Murphy's break. Murphy - who was also outstanding on the day - touched it into the path of Gerrard and he made no mistake with a first time shot into the roof of the net.

A joy to watch.

But for some last ditch defending, Liverpool would have extended their lead before half-time. All Villa offered was a header by Dion Dublin which was inches wide. Gregory removed David Ginola and Alpay at the interval in a planned siege of the Liverpool goal in the second half.

Liverpool's ability to self-destruct has seen them blow two goal leads on numerous occasions this season, but there was never a danger of this happening on Saturday. Instead, Murphy added to his impressive tally for the season. He was helped by a deflection from Gareth Southgate, but it was a just reward for the future England international.

Murphy will find the bandwagon taking him into Sven Eriksson's squad welcoming more and more passengers if he continues to produce performances of this quality.

Before Litmanen was preserved for future games on 70 minutes, there was more exhibition stuff from the visitors.

Hamann was denied by James and Gerrard watched a swerving right footer shave the post.

Villa were then allowed the ball for long periods but even a late claim for a penalty when Gerrard timed a tackled on Merson to perfection was unimpressive.

It was one of those days when everything went right for Liverpool.

A day when they looked the part and would have caused problems for any team in the land.

As well as Litmanen and Murphy, Smicer's good recent form continued and Didi Hamann celebrated his recall with his most effective Liverpool performance this season.

Hamann won every tackle.

Gerrard, inevitably, was inspirational too, but that seems to go without saying in every match report.

Villa were a shambles.

If ever a team was crying out for a goalscorer, it's the claret and blues.

How Gregory must envy Houllier's 'problems'.

Four top class strikers?

Some Premiership clubs are grateful for one.

ASTON VILLA: James; Wright, Southgate, Alpay (McGrath 45), Staunton, Stone; Ginola (Vasell 45), Barry, Merson, Samuel (Hitzsberger 84); Dublin : Not used: Standing, Enckelman

LIVERPOOL: Westerveld; Babbel, Henchoz, Hyypia, Carragher; Murphy, Hamann, Gerrard (McAllister 87), Smicer; Litmanen (Biscan 70), Heskey (Owen 81) : Not used: Nielsen, Barmby

REFEREE: Graham Barber

BOOKED: Alpay, Southgate

ATTENDANCE: 41,366

STAR MAN: Jari Litmanen - Made a huge difference to Liverpool's passing and the speed of their attacking play.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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