Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Riera
Gerrard 40’ (pen) 50’ 65’ (pen)
This team certainly knows how to make things interesting. What a difference confidence makes.
So much for Alonso and Arbeloa missing out, and so much for questioning Riera’s form. All three were outstanding today, but once again, the entire team has kicked into another gear, and we were rewarded with a romp.
Liverpool looked ready for it from the whistle, and the pressure led to the early goal that’s often so crucial – Kuyt in the 8th, slamming home the rebound after Alonso’s header from Gerrard’s free kick ricocheted off the crossbar.
But don’t be fooled by the final score. A couple of good chances followed soon after, with Gerrard twice firing wide from a narrow angle, but Villa were in it for the first 30 minutes, and if it wasn’t for Reina, it could have been level. The difference in the last three games has been Liverpool’s willingness to press forward, and it’s led to an open game, which we had here.
But Reina claimed pretty much everything that came into his box, and twice saved Carew headers (in the 21st and 25th) as the Norwegian striker consistently won aerial challenges. Under threat far less in the second half, Pepe still did everything asked of him the few times he was called into action. He’s now kept 100 clean sheets faster than any keeper in Liverpool history, and I wouldn’t trade him for any other.
And in the 33rd minute, another punt over the top from Reina led to the goal that basically sealed it. Once again, the opposition’s defense is punished when they let the ball bounce – this time Riera ran away from Barry, got to it first, and gorgeously half-volleyed past Friedel. Torres’ strike against Madrid and two of four goals against United came from similar long balls.
The other three goals were pretty much academic, and I don’t say that to belittle Villa. Liverpool were untouchable today, and any team would have struggled to come back from two down. And a third looked imminent as soon as the second went in; Gerrard and Arbeloa both went close before Riera won a penalty within six minutes. Another long ball – a cross-field diagonal from Kuyt – and Riera coaxed Reo-Coker into a barge in the back. Gerrard sent Friedel the wrong way for his third from the spot in as many games.
Five minutes into the second half, the captain added the fourth with a placed free kick from the edge of the area, and it looked like the final score would be whatever Liverpool wanted. But the second penalty and sending off of Friedel in the 65th was rubbing salt in the wounds. Atkinson followed the letter of the law – Friedel did take Torres out, but contact was unavoidable, and at 4-0, a red card’s just cruel. Down to 10 men, Guzan came on for Reo-Coker, and Gerrard got his hat-trick.
Liverpool had some chances over the final 25 minutes, but pretty much just played keep-away. Alonso was taken off in following the fifth, probably precautionary having missed the previous match, while Agger returned in the 77th for Arbeloa.
Both were incredibly important, and it was refreshing to see both return from injury. Gerrard’s hat-trick will also win the headlines. But Riera’s probably my man of the match for his goal and the first penalty, as well as being an all-around threat on the left. Trailing off recently had made me question his inclusion, but he was simply awesome today, and every bit the tantalizing signing he was on his debut.
That’s the team on top form, and the potential we knew was there. We’ve seen glimpses of it – Besiktas and Marseille in the CL and Derby in the Prem last year, Newcastle a few months ago. But this three-game stretch is the first time they’ve put it together in successive matches, and against this level of opposition. I can’t say for sure, but I reckon not many sides have scored four, four, and five against three former European Cup winners in as many matches.
This weekend couldn’t have gone better for Liverpool. It’s completely unbelievable that they now sit one point behind United, albeit having played one more match, and three ahead of Chelsea. The last two games have seen them erase the goal difference deficit; Liverpool’s is now highest, plus 33. There’s no question as to who’s the in-form side.
Eight more matches. Make us dream.