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Monday, March 23, 2009

Rampant Reds run riot again

Liverpool sent out a stark warning to Manchester United after closing the gap on the Premier League leaders to just one point following a 5-0 rout of Aston Villa at Anfield.

Rafael Benitez's men are breathing down United's necks after goals from Dirk Kuyt, Albert Riera and a Steven Gerrard hat-trick extended Villa's run without a league win to eight games.

Albert Riera celebrates March 2009 feature size The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Liverpool's recent successes against Real Madrid and Sir Alex Ferguson's men have been down to their blistering starts and there was no exception for Villa, who were caught cold after only eight minutes.

Makeshift right-back Nigel Reo-Coker failed to deal with a long kick from Reds keeper Pepe Reina and carelessly fouled tricky winger Riera on the edge of the area.

Xabi Alonso glanced Gerrard's free-kick onto the bar but Kuyt was on hand to rifle the ball past the hapless Brad Friedel to give Liverpool the lead.

Gerrard was instrumental in every home attack and the England midfielder should have doubled the lead on 15 minutes only to see his header go agonisingly over.

Recalled Villa striker John Carew was causing trouble for Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher in the heart of the Liverpool defence and Reina was twice forced into action to stop the big Norwegian from claiming Villa's equaliser.

Liverpool stepped up a gear after that and their football was worthy of league champions, but their second goal was pure route one.

Reina's long kick again deceived the away defence and Riera took his time before smashing the ball into the net off onto the underside of the crossbar.

Villa were at sixes and sevens and their lack of confidence was evident as the home side made it three before the break.

Kuyt's brilliant cross-field ball found the on-rushing Riera, who was again brought down by Reo-Coker.

This time it was in the area and captain Gerrard stepped up to slot the resulting penalty past Friedel and send the Anfield faithful into raptures.

Liverpool started the second half exactly how they finished the first as Gerrard got his second and the home side's fourth.

Carlos Cuellar clipped Kuyt on the edge of the area and after a touch from Alonso, Gerrard placed the ball superbly into the far bottom corner.

Despite being four goals up, Benitez's men were not in the mood to take their foot off the pedal and Gerrard secured his hat-trick with another penalty after Friedel had been sent off for a professional foul on Fernando Torres.

Villa boss Martin O'Neill cut a distraught figure on the sidelines as Torres and Riera began flaunting their skills knowing that the three points were secure and their side's title challenge was very much back on track.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said: "The team was doing well but it's true I am not totally happy because we could have scored more goals from the counter attack.

"We were playing against 10 players and had three or four more chances. It's really important to take them because you never know what's going to happen with the goal difference.

"Today it wasn't key but in other games it has been. I wanted more goals. It's an area we need to improve.

"Don't get me wrong, I am really pleased and happy.

"We said before we needed to do our job and wait for United to make mistakes. Now we are closer but they are still in a much better position. We need to keep going and pushing them.

"You cannot be thinking too much about what they will do and how many mistakes they will make. You cannot have any influence on this.

"We are closer and they will see we are working hard to win games. Every game is like a final for us now."

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