Liverpool hot on United's heels

Published : Mar 28, 2009 00:00 IST

With the trouncing of Aston Villa, Rafael Benitez's team closed to within a point of the leader, although Manchester United has a game in hand. Such a statistic cannot discourage a rampant Liverpool, for which Steven Gerrard, with the help of a pairof penalties, recorded his first Premier League hat-trick. By Kevin McCarra.

There is seldom a good time to go to Anfield, but Aston Villa faced this fixture at a moment when they can barely protect themselves and Liverpool are full of confidence. Rafael Benitez's team closed to within a point of the leaders, although Manchester United have a game in hand. Such a statistic cannot discourage a rampant Liverpool, for whom Steven Gerrard, with the help of a pair of penalties, recorded his first Premier League hat-trick.

Should liverpool maintain this dynamism there will be unease at Old Trafford. This rout comes hard on the trouncings of Real Madrid and United. None the less, Villa, who had their goalkeeper Brad Friedel sent off for conceding the second penalty, brought ignominy on themselves with several sloppy displays. They have not won in their last eight matches. They next meet Manchester United and Everton. Their squad began to look thin as the season developed, but the January transfer window saw them sign only a striker, Emile Heskey.

The club captain Martin Laursen had hurt his knee in December and made an abortive comeback the following month. It is devastating for Villa to lack the centre-half and a lack of resources is also felt elsewhere, with the midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker distressed at right-back. Martin O'Neill does not seem to have the means to regain momentum in the challenge for the last Champions League place.

Arsenal are three points clear of them. Some visiting fans were so disconsolate after the fourth goal, in the 50th minute, that they walked out of Anfield immediately. Liverpool, in this mood, will make most visitors feel fragile.

With eight minutes gone, Gerrard's free-kick was headed against the bar by Xabi Alonso and Dirk Kuyt drilled home the rebound. The next goal entailed a complete collapse in professionalism.

Pepe Reina easily saved a Gareth Barry free-kick and booted the ball straight downfield. That was enough to release Albert Riera and, with Luke Young unable to intervene, the Spaniard shot past Friedel. Liverpool, awash with confidence, exposed the troubling aspects of the Villa line-up, such as the current need to use the midfielder Reo-Coker out of position.

Six minutes from half-time, he fouled Riera and Gerrard slotted in the first of his penalties. Villa were all but helpless and, five minutes after the interval, the Liverpool captain scored once again after Alonso had tapped a free-kick to him. The second penalty was conceded when Friedel brought down Fernando Torres as the striker went round him. Despite claims that he had not been the last man the American was dismissed in the 63rd minute.

The replacement goalkeeper Brad Guzan then made his Premier League debut and immediately conceded a goal to Gerrard's spot kick. The rest of the Villa side must feel even more woebegone.

Easy as the victory was, an afternoon such as this will send even more conviction coursing through Liverpool.


March 22: Liverpool 5 (Kuyt 8, Riera 33, Gerrard pen-39, 50 & pen-65) bt Aston Villa 0. Half-time: 3-0; Manchester City 1 (Richards 56) bt Sunderland 0. Half-time: 0-0; Wigan 1 (Watson 84) bt Hull 0. Half-time: 0-0.

March 21: Blackburn 1 (Andrews 51) drew with West Ham 1 (Noble 35). Half-time: 0-1; Fulham 2 (Murphy pen-18, Gera 87) bt Manchester United 0. Half-time: 1-0; Newcastle 1 (Martins 58) lost to Arsenal 3 (Bendtner 57, Diaby 64, Nasri 67). Half-time: 0-0; Portsmouth 2 (Crouch 22 & 75) bt Everton 1 (Baines 4). Half-time: 1-1; Stoke 1 (Shawcross 84) bt Middlesbrough 0. Half-time: 0-0; Tottenham 1 (Modric 50) bt Chelsea 0. Half-time: 0-0; West Brom 1 (Shittu o.g.-82) drew with Bolton 1 (Taylor 67). Half-time: 0-0.

March 16: West Ham 0 drew with West Brom 0.©Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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