Goals from David Ngog, Ryan Babel and Maxi Rodriguez gave Liverpool a comfortable victory over Aston Villa at Anfield on Monday night, moving Roy Hodgson’s side up to eighth spot in the Premier League.
With Carragher and Gerrard already sidelined through injury, the Reds were dealt a blow pre-match when Fernando Torres withdrew from the squad in order to attend the birth of his second child after his wife went into labour. In his absence Babel partnered Ngog up front, with the two youngsters working well together.
It was a freezing night at Anfield – with reporters having to scrape ice from their bench pre-match – but there was a warm reception for returning former manager Gerard Houllier and his assistant Gary McAllister. Both received renditions of their songs as the match ebbed to a finish with the home side comfortably having won the game.
Two goals in three first half minutes won this game for Liverpool. The first arrived from the head of Ngog who followed in Martin Skrtel’s headed ball back across goal from a Raul Meireles corner. The Frenchman scored his first League goal since the opening day but remains the overall leading scorer this season.
Less than three minutes later Babel took his opportunity, although he was seemingly offside as the ball was played over the top for him. Nonetheless, the Dutchman, enjoying a rare outing in his preferred central role, turned former Red Stephen Warnock and volleyed the ball back across another ex-Red, Brad Friedel, in the Villa goal.
Villa failed to threaten until Gabby Agbonlahor’s close range attempt was well blocked by Pepe Reina – who went on to complete his 100th clean sheet for the club in a record 198 games – beating the legendary Ray Clemence’s 217 games.
Villa enjoyed more possession in the second half but Liverpool were never in danger of letting this one slip and looked organised, with Maxi and Kuyt often moving inside to dominate the midfield. It was Maxi who made the game safe with the killer third from an incisive breakaway. Reina released the ball early to Maxi, he laid it off to Ngog who advanced down the left before playing a lovely ball back inside for the Argentinian to finish beautifully into the top corner of the Kop net.
Glen Johnson had two opportunities to make it four later on, the first he made himself, waltzing into the box before testing Friedel, the second he wasted when put in on the right and blazed over. Meireles shot from distance looking for his first goal for the club but could only strike at the keeper.
This was a comfortable win in freezing conditions. Tougher tests lie ahead but at least the Reds are finally into positive goal difference for the season.
What is most pleasing about the win is that with Carra, Gerrard, Torres and Cole all not in the starting 11, the likes of Babel, Ngog, Lucas, Soto and Meireles stepped up and ensured a win was achieved.
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Kyrgiakos (Kelly), Skrtel, Konchesky, Kuyt (Cole), Meireles, Lucas, Maxi (Aurelio), Babel, Ngog