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Steven Gerrard has the last word for Liverpool

Steven Gerrard has the last word for Liverpool

By Colin Malam at Villa Park, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 8:07pm BST 12/08/2007

Aston Villa (0) 1 Liverpool (1) 2

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez savoured the sweet taste of an opening day Premier League success for the first time as Steven Gerrard's late strike clinched a 2-1 win at Aston Villa.

Benitez had never won the first game of the season since arriving at Anfield in 2004, but England midfielder Gerrard conjured up a superb, curling, 25-yard free-kick in the 87th minute to steal the points.

Gerrard has the last word for Liverpool
Fine start: Steven Gerrard's late free-kick sealed it for Liverpool

Martin Laursen's first-half own goal had put Liverpool ahead and Gareth Barry's 85th-minute penalty, awarded after Jamie Carragher handled Gabriel Agbonlahor's cross, was not enough to deny Liverpool their first opening day win for five years.

Benitez's record of starts to a season at Anfield has been less than impressive since moving from Spain and the slow starts have been held responsible for Liverpool's failure to mount a serious title challenge despite their success in the Champions League.

Which is precisely the reason Benitez has been so active in the transfer market, spending millions on Fernando Torres, Ryan Babel and Andriy Voronin, to enable them to hit the ground running and not have to play catch-up against their main title rivals over the second half of the season.

Spanish international Torres, at £26 million, is regarded as the final piece in Liverpool's title jigsaw and he certainly provided some sparkling touches on his debut, following his arrival from Atletico Madrid.

And although Benitez has been at pains to play down expectations on his squad this season, there can be no escaping the fact that they will have to be genuine challengers this time around for multi-millionaire owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks not to consider the season a failure. There was certainly plenty for the Spanish manager to be content with at Villa Park, apart from his side's inability to convert the huge number of chances they created, which would have avoided the need for such a nervous scramble to victory.

Ironically, after spending so much money on strikers, Liverpool had to rely on a freak own goal to give them the lead after 31 minutes of intense pressure.

Torres played an integral part, forcing Stuart Taylor into a full-length save after he had been sent clear in the area by Dirk Kuyt, who then pulled back the loose ball which Danish defender Laursen could only volley into his own net. Victory would have been far more comprehensive for Benitez, but for Taylor.

The former Arsenal goalkeeper twice denied Gerrard, once with an incredible save at point-blank range, and also denied Torres a debut goal with some agile work.

Taylor's heroics looked like being rewarded when Villa won their late penalty, but just when Barry's strike seemed to have brought about a major injustice, Gerrard found the perfect answer with a brilliant free-kick.

Gerrard admitted the focus in pre-season has been on making a strong start in order to keep up with expected early pace-setters Manchester United and Chelsea, who both start their campaigns today.

The Liverpool captain said: "Over the last few seasons we have been frustrated with the start we've made, we've lost silly points and been playing catch-up. The idea this time is to come out of the blocks quickly and stay in the title race.

"We were pleased with the first 60 minutes, I thought we controlled the game. Villa came back into the game but we managed to pull it out of the bag late doors."

Asked about his free-kick, Gerrard added: "It's about time the lads let me take one, I managed to catch one right today, but the most important thing was three points.

"It was a great three points and nice to go into the Chelsea game with three points on the board."

Aston Villa were unhappy with the award of the free-kick, but Gerrard said: "These things happen and some decisions you get, some you don't. I'm sure over the season decisions will even themselves out."


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