Aston Villa 0
So the grudge match. Brave plucky Villa face those nasty, big brutish Liverpool bullies having stood up to them in the summer over their attempts to steal their best player.
Add to that some tasty and provocative wars of words between the two managers and it can only be one thing, a barnstorming game playing out in a hostile atmosphere. Blood guts and thunder on and off the pitch, tackles flying in, passion and plenty of talking points. Light the blue touch paper and run away a far as possible this is going to be rough ride.
Er was that it? O’Neill and Rafa shook hands through gritted teeth and the nearest we got to any form of controversy was a childish, witless, boarding on racist, banner draped from the Holte End declaring that “Rafa Benitez is just a fat Spanish waiter”. I’m not sure if the words were written in crayon!
It was not exactly a performance to prove the doubters wrong. It almost feels cheeky to say that a point away to Villa, under the circumstances, should not be sniffed at. Sure we felt the loss of Gerrard and then the worrying withdrawal of Torres after half and hour but even allowing for this it was tepid and lifeless stuff from us, not a shot on target and very little signs of any creativity. Although Villa were just as bad for us it is the nature of the performance, in the light of games played prior to this, that continues to niggle. It was as grey as our kit!
The Barry brouhaha should have been forgotten the moment it was confirmed that Chelsea had dropped two points earlier in the day giving us the opportunity to go top. Ample motivation for the side and although I don’t doubt it was there, those watching had to look very hard to see signs of it!
Rafa’s line up was baffling. Five in midfield with Robbie Keane starting out of position on the wing whilst Babel and Benayoun warmed the bench. I can perhaps understand Benayoun not starting wide given his performance on last Wednesday but what has Babel done to Rafa to merit been overlooked in favour of Keane a player whose natural position is in the hole?
I guess faith, misplaced or otherwise, might have lead one to go with it and see what happens but nothing did and the best laid plans were well and truly scuppered with the injury to Torres. After that Keane was shunted from pillar to post. It was only a matter of time before he put on Reina’s gloves! What went through his mind when Torres went off and he wasn’t asked to go up front?
With Torres off and Keane all over the place it was no surprise that our chances where limited to a few speculative efforts from Kuyt, Lucas, Ngog, Keane and Alonso who either missed the target, due their own inaccuracy, or harrying from Villa defenders. Villa also had their chances Carew in particular should have scored in the first half but all in all was forgettable stuff.
In their post match interviews both mangers praised their defenders however, in all honesty they must to ruing the fact that with just one small bit of magic the game was could have been won. Both clubs have the players to do it but sadly stagnation prevailed over inspiration. Indeed if this game was a late night movie you would have reached for the remote long before the end or fallen asleep on the sofa! Surely we will wake up soon?
Aston Villa: Friedel, Luke Young (Milner 64), Laursen, Davies, Shorey (Gardner 79), Reo-Coker, Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Carew, Agbonlahor.
Subs Not Used: Guzan, Harewood, Knight, Salifou, Routledge.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Dossena, Kuyt (Aurelio 70), Alonso, Mascherano, Leiva Lucas, Keane (Benayoun 79), Torres (Ngog 30).
Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Agger, Babel, El Zhar.