Steven Gerrard scored a dream goal from a free-kick three minutes from time to secure Liverpool a their first three points on the opening day of the league season in five years.
Despite Â£45million of transfer activity over the summer, the only debutant in Rafa Benitez’s starting eleven was striker Fernando Torres who showed brief moments throughout the game of why the club have spent over Â£20million on the Spaniard.
Linking up well with Kuyt, Torres played a major part in the game’s opening goal just after half and hour into the game.
Receiving a through-ball from Gerrard thanks to a clever dummy from his Dutch strike partner just inside the penalty area, Torres saw his low shot finely saved by goalkeeper Stuart Taylor who palmed the ball away to his left. However quick thinking by Kuyt saw him keep the ball in play, strongly playing the ball back across the face of goal where Villa defender Martin Laursen was helpless in stumbling the ball into the back of his own net.
The game never really came alive, despite the second half introduction of new signing Ryan Babel, who impressed with strength, pace and a good first touch down the right side.
Just moments after coming on for Pennant on 74 minutes, Babel saw his shot from the edge of the area creep wide of Taylor’s left hand post.
But the Reds held strong to deny Aston Villa any way in until five minutes from time Jamie Carragher struggled to deal with John Carew in the Reds’ penalty area and inexplicably handballed, giving away a soft, late penalty that Villa captain Gareth Barry converted with conviction and rescue a point for the hosts.
However it was Gerrard who had the last laugh. First winning a free kick five yards outside the Villa area in a fairly central position before unleashing what could turn out to be the most well placed free-kick of the season.
His shot went over the tallest player on the pitch, Carew, before dipping and nestling perfectly in the top-right hand corner of the goal, giving Taylor no chance.
The huge grin on Gerrard’s face said it all as Liverpool celebrated a fantastic opening day victory that sees them, for what it’s worth, go fifth in the league table.
Looking back on the game, Benitez said his side showed character and was happy with Torres’ first full outing in a Liverpool shirt.
He said, “We deserved to win the game and it was a special goal from Gerrard.
“We showed great character after Villa were given a penalty and we kept going forward and got the goal. It was important for us to win the first game.
“I know we created a lot of chances but you have to say the Villa goalkeeper was really good and he was the man of the match.
“I thought Torres did well and worked hard and his understanding with Kuyt was really good.”
Above: Torres celebrates as Laursen’s own goal opens the score. Below: Gerrard celebrates his match winning free kick.
Matthew Watson’s Match Report
Liverpool began the season with a tricky away win against Martin O’Neil’s Aston Villa side. It was the first time Liverpool had won on the opening day of the season for 5 years, thanks to a late gem of a free kick from Captain Marvel and man of the match Steven Gerrard.
After a fast flowing start by both teams, Liverpool started to get a strong hold on the game, dominating the possession and putting Villa on the back foot. Torres had the first attempt of the game, when he made a dash into the box only to fire over Taylor’s bar, and again had a very good chance a few minutes later with a great piece of skill ripping the Villa defence apart to hit the ball that far wide it went out for a throw. It was the expected strike force of Torres and Kuyt, and throughout the first half it showed glimpses of a good partnership blossoming with their movement and passing together.
The opening goal of the match came after the half hour mark when a lovely through ball by Gerrard was cleverly dummied by Kuyt for Torres to run on to, to see his what we thought would be his first League goal for the club finely saved by ex Arsenal stopper Taylor who parried the ball to his right for our determined Dutchman Dirk Kuyt to keep the ball in to put it back into the danger zone for Villa defender Martin Laursen to put it into his own net.
Liverpool thereafter till half time were in near complete control of the match with some excellent passing across the middle and some excellent link up play especially with the front two and Gerrard, which nearly led to Liverpool’s captain getting their second when he fired over from the edge of the box after some good work from Riise and Kuyt.
HT: Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool.
Martin O’Neils men started to get a real hold on the game after the restart and made Livepool really work hard to get possession of the ball. The second half saw alot tighter game than the first and both teams had to work hard to really create anything in the last 3rd of their opponents half. Liverpool’s new Dutch wonderkid Ryan Babel came on for the last 20 minutes and impressed, looking sharp on and off the ball. He nearly scored within minutes of coming on when both himself and Kuyt worked the ball well together for Babel to strike the ball on the edge of the box to see the ball whisk agonisingly close past Taylor’s right hand post, Taylor was surely beaten.
With less than ten minutes to go Villa were awarded a penalty when Jamie Carragher, (though definitely not purposely) handled the ball in his own box for Gareth Barry to send Pepe Reina the wrong way from the spot to make it one all.
The game looked like it was heading for a draw, and another opening day without a win for Liverpool, until in the dieing minutes of the match when Liverpool were awarded a controversial free kick 25 yards away from the Villa goal. Captain Steven Gerrard stepped up to the plate once again and placed the ball perfectly into the top right hand corner of Taylor’s net. It was simply unstoppable, and the celebrations what followed showed the sheer delight of the Liverpool players.
Liverpool held on till the final whistle to gain all 3 points in a well deserved win.
A good performance all round from the boys, hopefully now it will give them confidence to go into the Toulouse game on Wednesday. Encouraging performances from both new boys Torres and Babel will have Rafa smiling and a man of the match performance from Steven Gerrard from the centre of the park will make our Peter Kay look-alike even happier when he and Mrs Benitez sit down with their sangrias’ tonight, after a pleasing win.
A lot of positives to take away from today’s game. Too early to tell yet if we can really make a serious bid for the title, but at least we are of to a winning start for once.
Man of the Match: Steven Gerrard
Aston Villa: Taylor, Gardner, Mellberg, Laursen (Cahill 46), Bouma (Moore 71), Petrov, Reo-Coker, Barry, Agbonlahor, Carew, Young.
Subs Not Used: Harewood, Osbourne, Maloney.
Booked: Mellberg, Bouma, Barry, Petrov.
Goals: Barry 85 pen.
Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Arbeloa, Pennant (Babel 74), Gerrard, Alonso, Riise, Torres (Voronin 79), Kuyt (Sissoko 90).
Subs Not Used: Itandje, Hyypia.
Booked: Pennant, Reina.
Goals: Laursen 31 og, Gerrard 87.
Ref: Mike Riley (Leeds)