The Reds got the season off to the best possible start at Aston Villa by winning by the only goal of the game today. New boy El Hadji Diouf started the game up front with Owen and in the first half especially took a bit of a battering by the Villa defenders, such was his pace on the turn. The Reds even managed to miss a penalty in the game and still win.
The Reds' experiment of 433 was replaced by a far better balanced side playing 442 and it told in the game overall. The Reds were fluid in their passing and although they rode their luck during a Villa onslaught midway through the first half they fully deserved the points gained.
The Reds attacked the Holte end in the first half which houses the Villa fans and always sought to get the ball down on the deck. The movement throughout the team was in stark contrast to that served up in pre-season and it was far better to see. The attention paid to Diouf especially in the first half resulted in a couple of yellow cards for Villa players and Alpay was particularly lucky not to see red as he went through on both Diouf and Owen.
The Reds should really have had a penalty in the first half when after a corner was cleared Hamann fed the ball to the edge of the box on the right to Gerrard. Gerrard fired it across the box and as Owen went for the ball he was both pulled back and forced to lose his boot. The penalty wasn't given but Diouf came in at the far post and somehow managed to fire over from a couple of yards out.
At the other end Villa really should have taken the lead during a goalmouth scramble which saw them hit the bar and post.It all started from a corner ball which wasn't dealt with very well. A header was sent goalwards which Dudek managed to deflect up in the air. It came down on the bar and bounced back into play and as it fell on the floor Staunton tried to poke the ball goalwards but it hit the post and the danger was cleared. This was the best patch that Villa had all game.
Liverpool's play at times was extremely fast and incisive. They passed to feet and moved off the ball to pick up positions to receive the ball back again. The four in midfield stayed in positions across the pitch which meant they held better width and prevented Villa from mounting serious attacks down a particular side. The Reds only had a couple of chances in the first half. Owen had a glorious chance when he hassled his way to the ball and took a shot on target but the agility of Enckleman took the ball away with his arm for a corner.
The second half saw the Reds playing just as good in the first half and of course grabbing the winning goal. The goal came after a Villa attack. Murphy broke clear with it and ran directly at the Villa midfield and then defence which sat off and gave him space. At the right moment he released the ball to Riise. The defender slipped and allowed the weak pass get to Riise who looked up before unleashing a shot into the back of the net in typical Riise style.
The Reds grew in confidence and should have doubled the lead from the penalty spot. Steven Gerrard collected a long raking ball from Sami Hyypia and cut inside Barry going into the box. Barry slipped and brought Gerrard down for a blatant penalty. Michael Owen stepped up to take the spot kick and saw it saved by the keepers foot as he dived to the side. This is the second spot kick missed against Villa by Owen in his time.
The miss however didn't alter the Reds' more direct style of play though and even with being one nil up they still probed forward and if any team was going to score it would have been the Reds increasing their lead. After a somewhat quiet pre-season in midfield and in front of goal it was refreshing to see the players passing the ball so well across the whole pitch. One notable difference was the greater forward licence being given to Hamann in the middle which helped push the Reds further up the pitch which is more dangerous to the goal we were attacking rather than defending.
MotM : Danny Murphy - a very difficult choice to make in a very team performance but the running on and off the ball by Murphy proved why he is in the side and his run for the goal in particular was superb. The whole midfield played really well though and the introduction of Diouf up front was great to watch too as you can never predict what he will do. At the back the Reds had a relatively quiet day overall with only a couple of minor scares.