Match Report by Robbie Amins for Talklfc
Before the match, if you had asked Rafa Benitez whether he would be happy with a 1-1 result, he probably would considering Villa is a decent side and Liverpool's indifferent form away from home. But after the referee blowed the final whistle, the Reds boss knew it was two points dropped rather than a point a gained. Liverpool's dominance in the first half was rewarded with a long overdue goal from Harry Kewell. Against the run of play, Nolberto Solano picked his spot from a freekick that should never had been given.
Former Real Madrid man Antonio Nunez got his first Premiership start at right midfield. Florent Sinama Pongolle was rewarded with a rest after his exertions in mid-week. Liverpool started the game brightly as Neil Mellor who was buoyant after last week's winner against Arsenal, found himself in space deep inside Villa territory. And then a poor punch from Sorensen caused panic inside the opposition penalty area.
The first half was all about Liverpool as the Reds looked comfortable in possession while their Midlands rivals looked anything but. The passing was sharp and incisive and it seemed only a matter of time before they would break the deadlock.
John Arne Riise got the first real opportunity after 10 minutes when he cut inside and unleashed a drive with his favourite left foot which was held by Sorensen. The Reds deservedly took the lead in the 16th minute as Harry Kewell latched onto Jamie Carragher's header of a Steven Gerrard freekick to score his first goal in 34 games and give Liverpool the lead.
Mellor almost made it two but for an excellent save from Sorensen. He looked like he was losing his balance but still managed to get his half volley in and the scuffed shot looked destined to hit the back of the net until the Villa keeper got a hand to it. Gerrard then volleyed over the bar when he arrived at the far post from Xabi Alonso's cross, and David O'Leary's were struggling to mount a meaningful attack.
Sorensen had to be on the ball again to repel another Gerrard shot as Liverpool could, and should have had more reward for their dominance. Just before the end of the first half, Carragher was wrongly penalised for 'fouling' Gavin McCann who fell like he was shot with the slightest contact. But then again, many players do that nowadays that you just have to live with it and try to cope with it.
Nolberto Solano stepped up to show his expertise at set pieces and the Peruvian went on to curl a superb shot over the defensive wall to beat Chris Kirkland's despairing dive and give Villa half time parity which they scarcely deserved.
Steven Gerrard almost restored the Reds' lead early in the second half with a free kick that was again superbly saved by Sorensen. To their credit, the Reds continued to try to play high-tempo passing football rather than let the controversial goal affect them and start getting stuck in at every Villa man.
Rafa Benitez made a change on the hour when he brought Djimi Traore on for Neil Mellor and pushed Harry Kewell upfront on his own. He probably had Olympiakos in the Champions League in his mind. Amazingly, Traore played the rest of the match as a left winger rather than at his usual leftback position.
Steven Gerrard was then also given a rest by the gaffer as Liverpool continued to try to find the winner. It never materialised and the fans would have to take comfort in the fact that the Reds look like a team in form and ready to hit top gear. Champions League action coming up next.....
Liverpool were hard done by after a controversial refereeing decision deprived them of all three points against Aston Villa at Villa Park today. Harry Kewell's first league goal in months gave them the deserved lead and Solano replied for the home side.
Chris did not have much to do in the first half because of Liverpool's dominance. Some people might point out that Solano's shot was very close to him but to be fair to him, that was an excellent freekick. There was so much pace on the ball that Chris could not react with a save.
John Arne Riise
John did well at left back and continued to run into the left wing channels. The attacking fullback did well to keep his shot down and on target in the first half but it was straight at the in-form Thomas Sorensen.
Carra was furious after the referee awarded the freekick to Gavin McCann penalising the Liverpool defender for bringing him down. It was a dubious decision that changed the face of the game and the Villa player was seen apologising afterwards. The player that always gives 110% every week certainly does not deserve to be painted as the culprit for the dropped points.
Sami did very well to snuff out the threat of Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel. The Finland international may not be as fast at Angel but the many years of experience counted as he was cool and composed under pressure.
Steve definitely look better than Josemi at right back. It was the correct decision to stick with the Irishman rather than bringing back the Spaniard. Played at right midfield after Nunez came off and did well in keeping possession of the ball.
The frustrating Harry Kewell continued to show why many think he is past his best. He lost possession of the ball cheaply and he looks like a man very short of confidence at the moment. Hopefully that goal will be the pill to sort that out.
Xabi's passing was excellent and most of his long balls found their target. Liverpool dominated the the first half and for large chunks of the match and the midfield trio of Alonso, Hamann and Gerrard certainly contributed to that.
Didi was given a boost after Rafa Benitez revealed that he will be offered a new deal to stay at Anfield and the German anchorman looked like a happy man as he broke down many of Villa's moves in midfield.
The player who probably will be unfairly remembered as 'the player who was part of the Owen deal' got his first Premiership start and probably found life tougher than in the La Liga. Gareth Barry and Jlloyd Samuel was quick not to give him time and space but Antonio did well enough but the hungry fans would expect more from him.
Stevie G ran the show for Liverpool. Given the licence to run forward from midfield, he played just off the frontman for most of the match. Probably could have done better than to shoot over the goal when he was picked out by an amazing Alonso pass but his workrate and determination was all what Steven Gerrard was about and he was given a stading ovation when he came off near the end.
Neil looked like a man in form and he was very threatening in the early stages of the match. He could count himself unlucky to find Sorensen in alert mode when his scuffed volley was kept out of the Villa goal. The young man was taken off despite Liverpool looking for the winner and that surely meant that he will be starting against Olympiakos.
Jose Miguel Gonzalez Rey
Josemi had just recovered from an injury but Finnan has done well in his absence and it would certainly be unfair to remove him from the fullback position especially after the Spaniard's poor displays before he was ruled out of action. Did fairly well after coming on.
Many wonder why Djimi was playing as a left winger after he replaced Neil Mellor. Has Rafa Benitez been training him secretly at Melwood? He has got the pace but he looked nothing like an attacking player in his short cameo. Definitely look better at fullback.
Florent Sinama Pongolle
Flo Po probably understood that he was rested rather than dropped after his mid-week exertions. Couldn't do much after coming on and the winner never arrived for Liverpool.
Man of the Match: Steven Gerrard
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez on the match: "It is frustrating because it is very difficult to play better than we did in the first half when we had a lot of clear chances and were only level. In the second half Villa kept the ball more often but we still had opportunities to have won the game. Today we improved our level of performance away from home and we played in the opening half at the same level as against Arsenal. But you need to score to win games. It is more important we play well and we had eight to 10 chances. It is important to win when you do that."
"We must have had eight or 10 good openings but if you don't score what can you do? We didn't play as well in the second half but we still created good chances and I don't think they had many. I heard the Villa coaches at half time telling their team that they had to keep the ball better and close us down. We did a lot of running in the first half so maybe some of the players were a little tired."
Rafa Benitez on the controversial freekick decision: "For me it is not a free-kick. I want to see it on the TV but in the context of the whole game the free-kick is not important."
Rafa Benitez on Steven Gerrard: "I don't like to talk about one player only but Steven is playing well and he got into the box in good positions on one or two occasions. But you cannot play well if the team is not playing well around you."
Aston Villa manager David O'Leary on the match: "I'm doing head-stands over getting a point. I thought in the first half we got totally out of gaol and were outclassed. I was worried all week because I thought Gerrard, [Xabi] Alonso and [Dietmar] Hamann would all be in midfield and that could be a bit of a mismatch in that department. We couldn't live with the quality in the first half and they should have scored more goals in the first half."
"They were able to almost walk the ball in the net for their goal and then we scored from a free-kick which is about all we did in the first half. In the second half it was more even in every way. To dig in during the second half was a plus point and I also thought the young lad Steven Davis did particularly well in midfield particularly considering the company he was in. Steven Gerrard was world class on his first half performance, while Harry Kewell seemingly played better of late."
David O'Leary on Steven Gerrard: "I joked to him, `don't you think you should come off and save yourself for the Champions League on Wednesday'. Gerrard had that licence to break forward and he is one of those certain players that makes the players around him play even better. I think when Gerrard is in the team they are a lot better and their players know that and are delighted to have him in there - and just imagine what he would have been like had he gone to Chelsea."