Barclays Premier League August 11th 2007.
Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 2
Liverpool have opened the season with three points after beating Aston Villa at Villa Park. Despite Liverpool being in control for the vast majority of the game Villa always looked dangerous, and will be disappointed that they came out of the game without any points. In the end it was a wonder free-kick from Reds captain Steven Gerrard that won the day.Rafa Benitez gave Fernando Torres his full debut for today’s league opener against Aston Villa, but the rest of his starting eleven were all ‘old’ players. Itandje, Babel and Voronin did get a place on the bench, but the manager stuck to using the players he felt he knew best for the start of the season.
John Arne Riise was pushed into midfield with Arbeloa used as left-back, after the unlucky Harry Kewell had been ruled out yet again through injury. Steven Gerrard at least got his wish for the first game, playing in the centre of midfield with Xabi Alonso.
Liverpool were a goal up at half-time but it wasn’t even a Liverpool player’s name on the scoresheet. A Laursen own goal divided the teams at the break, the Villa defender under pressure to clear from a Kuyt cross, after the Dutchman retrieved the ball from the byline after a shot from Torres had been saved.
Pennant was lucky that Mike Riley wasn’t in the mood he usually seems to be in when he officiates Liverpool games. Just minutes after being booked he was fouled by Villa’s Bouma, and reacted angrily. Riley booked Bouma and warned Pennant. Pennant made way after 74 minutes for Liverpool’s second debutante of the day. Ryan Babel was brought on and had a chance within two minutes. After running at pace at the Villa defence he passed the ball to Kuyt, who crossed back again to his compatriot. Babel’s attempt at curling it into the right hand side of the goal didn’t quite work out and the shot went narrowly wide. Five minutes later and Babel was again trying to score, this time his shot producing an excellent save from the current Villa goalkeeper Taylor. Taylor will be replaced in the starting line-up for Villa’s next game by Liverpool’s goalkeeper Scott Carson, who is now on a season-long loan at Villa Park but not allowed to play against his own club.
Torres wasn’t to score on his debut, but should be pleased with his introduction to the English game. The £18m signing was replaced after 78 minutes by free-signing and fellow striker Andriy Voronin.
After 84 minutes Mike Riley remembered it was Liverpool he was refereeing against, and awarded Villa a penalty. Jamie Carragher accidentally handled the ball in the box, and booked Reina in the seconds before the penalty was taken. Gareth Barry, booked earlier for cheating, too the penalty and beat Reina.
Then Riley upset the Villa players, officials and fans when awarding the Reds a free-kick around 30 yards out. The club captain Gerrard insisted he would take it, and that decision proved to be the right one. Gerrard couldn’t have hit it any better, it flew into the top-right corner and will surely still be a candidate for goal of the season in nine months when this season is at its end.
There was a scare in stoppage time when Reina was forced to tip over from a Carew shot but the Reds hung on and for once have started a season with three points. Liverpool fought hard for those three points, and even if it wasn’t always pretty they did deserve their victory. These are the kinds of games Liverpool often drop points in and it looked like that was how it was going to go today after Villa got their penalty. Liverpool will no doubt raise their game for the next match – against new enemies Chelsea – but these games against the team lower down the league need to be won if they are going to challenge their bigger enemies for the title.
Aston Villa: 13 Taylor, 26 Gardner, 4 Mellberg, 5 Laursen (21 Cahill, 45), 3 Bouma (8 Moore, 71), 19 Petrov, 20 Reo-Coker, 6 Barry, 11 Agbonlahor, 10 Carew, 7 Young
Unused subs: 9 Harewood, 27 Osbourne, 28 Maloney
Booked: Mellberg 26, Bouma 58, Barry 67, Petrov 89
Goals: Barry 85 (pen)
Liverpool: 25 Reina, 3 Finnan, 23 Carragher, 5 Agger, 17 Arbeloa, 16 Pennant (19 Babel, 74), 8 Gerrard, 14 Alonso, 6 Riise, 9 Torres (10 Voronin, 79), 18 Kuyt,(22 Sissoko, 90)
Unused subs: 30 Itandje, 4 Hyypia
Booked: Pennant 55, Reina 84
Goals: Laursen (OG) 31, Gerrard 87
Referee: Mike Riley