Liverpool’s Premiership campaign continued with an away game to Aston Villa. After just scraping through the Champions League qualifiers in midweek, a massive improvement was required by Rafael Benitez’ men. This improvement would have to be done without Steven Gerrard though, who’s reoccurring groin problem ruled him out for at least two weeks. Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva were both available after their return from the Olympics. Both started with Yossi Benayoun and the injured Steven Gerrard being the two to give way. Andrea Dossena also earned a recall at the expense of Fabio Aurelio. This side on paper looked to give the Reds a very unbalanced side with Lucas playing wide left. Villa themselves had been in Europe during the week but their tie was over in the first leg and Martin O’Neill was able to leave his star players out for their UEFA Cup qualifier. All his big guns returned for this match including new club captain Martin Laursen who’d be handed the armband after Gareth Barry’s comments about his proposed move to Liverpool during the summer.
The pre-match build up was revolved centrally around Barry and the “would he wouldn’t he?” transfer saga. But once the match started it was the selection policy and tactics by our manager which had fans and pundits alike wondering. It appeared that Robbie Keane was going to play on the left wing of a five man midfield. With Chelsea dropping points earlier in the day, this seemed like the perfect opportunity for Liverpool to capitalise and take pole position in the Premiership but the formation suggested otherwise.
Both sides had good possession of the ball in the early going without really causing either keeper any trouble. It was another game where our number 9, Fernando Torres, was going to be starved of any real service and while he was on the pitch he was. The Spaniard pulled his hamstring around the half hour mark after chasing a Javier Mascherano pass. Torres’ quick turn of pace saw his hamstring go and he was forced to leave the game. This seemed to have dashed any real goal threat Liverpool had. The resulting substitution again had everyone wondering what was happening. Everyone expected to see either Babel or Benayoun come on down the left and Keane to go up top but instead Benitez handed young French forward David N’Gog his debut and kept Keane out wide where he was having no effect on the match.
Liverpool continued to press though and Dirk Kuyt had a decent chance from a tight angle after Nicky Shorey’s poor header fell at the Dutchman’s feet. His effort hit the side netting although it was a sign that we were intent on winning this match. The intent continued after nice link up play between Keane and N’Gog ended in a shot just over the bar by N’Gog. The home side also had chances and probably the best of the match after Ashley Young broke the offside trap and pulled it back for Carew who will be bitterly disappointed he could only smash his effort right at Reina in the Liverpool goal. Half time arrived and put an end to what had probably been our best 45 minutes of the season.
The second half saw both sides limited to very few clear cut chances although both had one golden chance each. Aston Villa’s came from an Ashley Young free kick who swung the ball and beat everyone only to find the head of Curtis Davies who had the simple job of heading the ball home, fortunately for us he headed the ball towards his own goal. Our best chance came when Mascherano chipped the ball into the path of Robbie Keane who scuffed his shot entirely and it didn’t trouble Brad Friedel in the Villa goal. The former Red was able to just watch the ball drift wide.
Keane was beginning to come more and more into the game only to be brought off for Yossi Benayoun with still over ten minutes to play. This was Benitez’ last substitution and created as much confusion as his other two. Fabio Aurelio took the place of Dirk Kuyt just under seventy minutes. At this point it looked as if Benitez had accepted a point and Keane’s inability to finish ninety minutes again confirmed as much. Once Keane was off the pitch the game was all Aston Villa with their new signing James Milner coming closest with his shot from outside the box which ended up safely in the hands of Jose Reina.
The game ended goalless which was probably a fair reflection because of the lack of chances for both sides. Us and Villa lacked that killer instinct up front and creativity in midfield. It keeps up level on points with Chelsea at the top of the league and extends our unbeaten run this season to five games in all competitions. It was also another clean sheet, our fourth of the season. With the international break coming up next for most of our lads we can rest our minds for the time being and just hope both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are fit enough to play against Manchester United on September the 13th. We’ll be hoping none of our other players pick up injuries while on international duty. As for today though, it’s another good result for us and the performance showed signs that it’s getting there. I don’t think we’ll be waiting too long Liverpool to click into gear.