Aston Villa 0, Liverpool FC 1: Fernando Torres latest feat could prove priceless

By Dominic King on Dec 30, 09 12:42 PM in Journalists

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AND that's the reason he's a record breaker. Fernando Torres has proven time and again why he is worth his weight in gold, but his latest extraordinary feat could prove priceless.

Torres' name was etched into Liverpool folklore long ago and he did not need the tag of 'fastest striker to 50 league goals' for supporters to hold him any higher in their affections or to remind people of his quality.

Yet, in smashing this particular milestone at Villa Park, Torres has revived a Liverpool season that two weeks ago was on the verge of collapse but now looks, belatedly, to be heading in the right direction.


This, make no mistake, was a massive win, one which proved there is plenty of life in this particular patient and showed why, for all the wretched results they have endured recently, Liverpool will take some shifting from the top four.

Playing with composure, they were too savvy for Aston Villa and worked relentlessly to build on the confidence booster which came against Wolves. One chance and one goal later, three points have put a completely different complexion on the table.

Now, of course, Liverpool must make sure they build on this win by pegging back Tottenham and Manchester City, too, but after such a dramatic victory who is to say they won't? Particularly now players are coming into form.

Take Alberto Aquilani. He made a telling impression in his first Premier League start on Boxing Day, particularly with the way he always wanted to go forward whenever or wherever he received possession.

The helter-skelter pace of this division is light years from anything he will have ever experienced in the more sedate surrounds of Serie A, a league where slow, slow, quick, quick, slow is the tempo of choice.

But Aquilani wasn't ruffled by the pack of hunting Wolves he came across at Anfield and there was more of the same here; he might lack the strength to deal with physical battles but there is no doubting his class

Just look at the way he operates - invariably his first touch will get the ball under instant control, then there will be a spin, a feint or a drop of the shoulder and then, in a flash, the ball will be speeding accurately on to its intended target.

He was prominent figure in a first half which Liverpool, in the main, controlled but one they failed to create a clear opportunity inside the penalty area that would have really tested their former goalkeeper Brad Friedel.

Steven Gerrard had the best chance, his dipping, curling shot from just outside the area was tipped over by the back-pedaling Friedel after Fernando Torres had deftly cushioned Emiliano Insua's raking cross field ball into his path.

From the resulting corner, Yossi Benayoun - looking for his first goal of the campaign away from Anfield - had a snap shot but it lacked the power or precision to worry Friedel and the American was able to easily deal with it.

It was, in many ways, similar to most of the games Liverpool have played this winter; their starts have always been bright and assured, they have never allowed their opponents to bustle them up and have moved through the early paces with ease.

Problems, though, have come when chances have been fluffed and they have gone on to find themselves trailing; think of the games with Arsenal and Portsmouth in particular when the failure to build on solid platforms were catastrophic.

There was a danger something similar would happen here when Villa, who were content to hump long balls forward for John Carew, won a corner on the half-hour that almost led to the opening goal.

Stewart Downing, somehow, was allowed to wander free at the back post; the connection he met James Milner's set piece with was crisp and accurate but, fortunately, Pepe Reina was alert to the danger.

Such was the nonchalant way Reina reacted, it was easy to assume the save he made was run of the mill but, as television replays confirmed, it was anything but; his reactions, quite simply, were outstanding.

Then again, should we have been surprised? Reina, surely, can no longer be described as one of the best keepers in the Premier League; a more fitting label would be one of the best in the world.

That moment apart, Reina's biggest concern was trying to find a way of keeping warm, as the constant swirling snow and biting wind made it an uncomfortable evening..

Temporary respite from the elements came during the interval but unfortunately for Reina - one save from Gabriel Agbonlahor aside - normal service was resumed after the break, as he was again nothing more than an icy spectator.

With each passing minute, you could see a noticeable improvement in Liverpool's play; Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger set the tone with strong tackling and clear heads while directly in front of them, Lucas was diligence personified.

Frustratingly, however, Villa's defending was just as stout; Richard Dunne may have been lucky not to concede a 37th minute penalty when chopping down Dirk Kuyt but for most of the evening, he attracted the ball like a magnet.

Alongside him, Carlos Cuellar was in a similarly obdurate mood; chastened by their experience at Arsenal on Sunday, Martin O'Neill had evidently set his side up not to lose.

Benitez, on the other hand, had set his team up to win; he is often criticised for being too negative but that could not be said on this occasion - even with the game delicately poised he made an attacking change, sending on Ryan Babel for the wilting Aquilani.

An immediate dividend was almost reaped but, to everyone's disbelief, Babel failed to connect when presented with a free header six yards from goal; thankfully one more chance came and it fell to the sharpest shooter of them all.

As opportunity knocked, Torres grasped it, firing low past Friedel to spark scenes of pandemonium; the way players and supporters celebrated, you sensed this was the moment when, finally, Liverpool's season has turned.

ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Friedel; Young, Dunne, Cuellar, Warnock; Milner, Reo-Coker (Albrighton 72), Petrov, Downing (Sidwell 80)); Agbonlahor, Carew.

LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson (Skrtel 89), Carragher, Agger, Insua; Lucas, Aquilani (Babel 77); Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun (Aurelio 90+3); Torres.

Bookings - Dunne (41), Lucas (43)

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