Ngog (14), Babel (16), Maxi (55)
Aston Villa 0
The news that Fernando Torres had joined Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher on the list of absentees for this game must have had many reds fans fearing the worst.
Torres absence was understandable, his wife was due to give birth to his second child (one kid is one thing but two – prepare to be permanently knackered Nando), however the absence of the clubs “spine” must have left many wondering what this game was going to serve up. In the end it proved to be pleasantly palatable dish.
Much comment has been made about our lack of strength in depth up front however Babel, who with January looming was in good frame of mind, and Ngog did their cases no harm at all last night. I’m say this tentatively as it is early days but perhaps all is not lost and that there are small signs to suggest that there is some hope of producing a genuine foil to Torres from within L4 rather than having to take the cheque book out? Furthermore, and dare I say it, we appear to be gaining in confidence particularly at home, three against West Ham and now Villa. Both sides didn’t provide us with the stiffest of tests but, on each occasion, the victory was conclusive. Eighth now and closer to the lead than we were at this stage last season… it needs to be taken slowly though?
Torres aside there was one more change from the Spurs game, Kyrgiakos filled in the injured Jamie Carragher. HRH resisted the temptation to shuffle the pack to accommodate Joe Cole preferring to give Ryan Babel a rare and welcome outing in the centre. Jose Reina and Maxi wore snoods. Maxi’s was particularly “fetching” sporting the Liverpool crest in fact it looked like he’d just cut off the rim from a LFC bobble hat. Anyway all in all it’s a worrying trend. Tommy Smith would have never have worn one!
Gerard Houllier got a deserved warm reception and the occasional chorus’ of “Allez Houllier” must have bought back memories. However that was were the welcome ended. After only a few minutes we had Villa in disarray. They made a right hash of trying to clear Meireles’ free kick, but Kuyt could only return the eventual clearance into the Anfield Road End. We kept up the pressure without testing Friedel too much however our closing down of Villa defenders eventually paid dividend on fourteen minutes. Kuyt and Babel combined to force Warnock into conceding a corner. Meireles sent it over, Skrtel knocked it back into the mix and Ngog, on the edge of the six yard box, broke free to dive in and head home. Before we could even blink the second followed. Ngog won the ball in midfield, Meireles and Maxi took over and fed Lucas who lifted a “sand wedge” pass over the Villa back line for Babel to run not and fire home. Offside? Yes but it was our night with this one … on another day?
The goals clearly buoyed us. Kyrgiakos nodded over from a free kick when arguably he should have scored. Babel then guided a shot past the wrong side of the post. Both chances were set up by Meireles whose influence along with that of Maxi appears to growing with every game. It will be interesting to see what HRH does once Gerrard is available again as Meireles has clearly benefited from moving into the middle of midfield?
The second half saw us more relaxed. Villa changed formation and did look slightly better and Reina was made to work hard in denying Agbonlahor. However, this did not deter us and on fifty five minutes we scored a classic break away goal. Reina collected Downing’s cross and fed Maxi on the edge of the centre circle. Maxi found Ngog, continued his run into the box picked up the Frenchman’s neat return and finished easily guiding the ball past Friedel with inside of his foot to seal it.
Johnson, safe in the knowledge that we were three for no reply, ventured further forward and, after good run into the box, had his shot beaten away by Friedel. He repeated this moments later only this time the keeper was untroubled. Kyrgiakos had a good downward header cleared off the line by Hogg. However the game drifted off to its inevitable conclusion and HRH was even able to give some players an early rest and give others a run out.
Finally congratulations to Jose Reina who achieved his 100th clean sheet for us in record time. And of course congratulations to Nando and family, being kicked by some talentless centre back will now seem a breeze!
Liverpool: Reina, G Johnson, Konchesky, Kyrgiakos (Kelly 83), Skrtel, Raul Meireles, Maxi (Aurelio 76), Lucas, Kuyt (Cole 80), Babel, Ngog Substitutes: Jones, Aurelio, Kelly, Cole, C Poulsen, Shelvey, Jovanovic
Aston Villa: Friedel, L Young, Warnock, Dunne, Clark (Delfouneso 46), Collins, Downing, Ireland, Albrighton (Pires 65), Hogg, Agbonlahor (Carew 66), Substitutes: Guzan, Cuellar, Lichaj, Pires, Herd, Carew, Delfouneso