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Liverpool 3-0 Aston Villa: Goals Flow Despite Torres And Gerrard’s Absence On Houllier’s Return To Anfield
By Matthew Woodward
Goals from David N'Gog, Ryan Babel and Maxi Rodriguez fired Liverpool past Aston Villa, upon Gerard Houllier's first professional return to Anfield since leaving in 2004.
With Fernando Torres unavailable due to his wife going into labour, Babel and N'gog lead the attack and produced two goals in two minutes to down Villa by half-time.
Maxi Rodriguez grabbed a third for the Reds in the second half after a beautiful combination with N'Gog on the right wing, and fired it past Brad Friedel into the top right hand corner.
Houllier's XI displayed a lacklustre performance, whilst defensive errors pushed Villa to the brink and were pounced on by the Liverpool attack.
Aston Villa experienced an early scare as Lucas Leiva crossed in an awkward ball from the right, which was scrambled out by N’Gog and fell to Dirk Kuyt who struck it just past the post.
Noticeable characters were missing for Roy Hodgson tonight with the likes of skipper Steven Gerrard and vice-captain Jaime Carragher due to injury, but Fernando Torres was called away from duty with his wife entering labour, missing his first Premier League game of the season.
Marc Albrighton returned from appendicitis, and very nearly opened the scoring by latching on to cross from Ciaran Clark, needing a vital interception from Martin Skrtel.
Doubts surrounded the Villa defence early on, with Liverpool constantly pressing forward with Babel proving to threaten the visitors' back four with his pace.
Liverpool scored two goals within two minutes, putting further disbelief in Villa’s back four as Steven Warnock failed to cope with both attacking threats.
Kuyt drifted in a lovely ball from a corner kick on the 15th minute, and found an unmarked Skrtel drifting at the edge of the box, who headed it on towards Friedel at the front post only for N’Gog to meet it with his head and power it into the back of the net.
Two minutes later, holding midfielder Lucas collected a 40 yard cross and cleverly dented it forward past Warnock for Babel to latch on to, and met an awkward bounce with his chest to fire across Friedel for his first Premier League goal of the season.
Torres may have left a gap in Hodgson’s XI, but N’Gog and Babel filled it – scoring both of Liverpool’s opening goals.
Villa’s defensive errors continued as Clark failed to cope with Sotirios Kyrgiakos at the back post, who connected with an inviting cross from Dirk Kuyt yet failed to get his header on target and test the Villa stopper.
Hodgson’s side looked to have cured their attacking woes with Lucas providing consistent balls forward for N’Gog. The Frenchman latched on to another ball from Lucas and headed forward to Kuyt, who found his way past three defenders only for Clark to make a vital challenge in the box and nudge it out for a corner.
Another lovely build-up from Liverpool saw more than 20 passed put together before finding Raul Meireles on the right flank, who crossed into Babel and lusciously attempted to curl his volley into the right hand corner, only for it to drift past the post.
Babel’s work rate was better than all others on the pitch during the first half, working his socks off to wrestle Villa off the ball and provide decent runways for Kuyt and N’Gog to take off in.
Houllier was shown no mercy upon his return to Anfield, with his back four enduring a night to forget by half-time.
Villa changed to a more attacking 4-4-2 formation with Nathan Delfouneso and Gabby Agbonlahor leading the Villa attack for the second half.
Houllier’s half-time words must have heated Villa’s chills, as they looked more lively in the opening ten minutes of the second half, pressing Liverpool and getting the ball forward.
Villa nearly grabbed one back early into the second half as Stephen Ireland played the ball to Stuart Downing on the left, and with Johnson horribly mistiming his clearance, Downing got through and had numerous options once arriving into the penalty box.
Downing chose to find Agbonlahor arriving on the penalty spot, and swifted a left footed pass into the path of the England striker, but just as he was about to poke it into the back of the net, Reina made himself big and produced an excellent save to deny the 24-year-old.
However Villa suffered yet another blow, and were caught sharply on the counterattack soon after Reina’s save, with Maxi playing in N’Gog on the left wing and continued his run into the penalty box before slotting back into the pathway of Maxi Rodriguez, who mirrored Jordan Henderson’s weekend finish for Sunderland, and whipped it first time into the top right hand corner past Friedel.
Houllier looked to mix it up on the 65 minute mark, when John Carew replaced Agbonlahor and veteran Robert Pires came on for Albrighton.
Liverpool drove forward again in the final third, with Johnson pushing down the right wing and cutting into the Villa penalty area with two elegant touches past Dunne and Warnock, and unleashed a powerful shot requiring a sharp save from Friedel.
Hodgson’s side continued their brilliant first half display, with cheeky backheels from Maxi and a quick turn from N’Gog pushed Liverpool down the right flank and won a corner.
Kuyt converted the set piece into Kyriagos, who rose high and powered a header onto the floor into the corner, only for Jonathan Hogg on the line to clear with his head.
Goalscorer Maxi Rodriguez was substituted for Fabio Aurelio on 76’, whilst Joe Cole returned to Premier League action after being sidelined for six weeks, and replaced Kuyt on the right flank.
Hodgson used all three substitutions with centre-back Kyrgiakos coming off for local lad Martin Kelly, The 20-year-old greatly impressed as a full-back during Glen Johnson’s absence, and played central part in Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over Chelsea last month.
N’Gog looked just as lively in the final minutes, partnering nicely with Johnson on the right, who played a one-two with the Frenchman but pressure from Dunne pushed N’Gog to drive to ball out of play.
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