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August 26, 2009

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Liverpool slumps at home to Villa

LIVERPOOL slumped to its second defeat of the English Premier League season on Monday when Aston Villa won 3-1 at Anfield.

The first loss to Villa in eight years leaves last season's runner-up six points behind Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea after three matches - and with as many losses as in all of its last campaign.

"We have to improve," Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said. "We will have to sit down and analyze every player now and make sure we do the right things in our next match (against Bolton Wanderers). But our senior players must take more responsibility."

The damage was done before half-time with Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva nodding into his own goal and goalkeeper Pepe Reina beaten by a header from Villa's Curtis Davies.

Fernando Torres pulled one back for Liverpool, but Villa's two-goal cushion was restored inside three minutes when Steven Gerrard conceded a penalty and Ashley Young converted the spot kick.

Goalkeeper Brad Friedel pulled off a string of vital saves to secure Villa's first win over Liverpool since September 2001.

"We've been getting a few bullets in the press for our performances recently," said Friedel, whose side lost its league opener to Wigan and its Europa League first-leg tie to Rapid Vienna. "(This win) was the right time for us. We knew we would be under the cosh. Second half, we were under siege, but the penalty came at the perfect time."

A night that ended so grimly for the Reds had begun brightly against a side that had yielded more Premier League points to them than any other club.

Inside the first minute, Torres lofted the ball to Yossi Benayoun only for the Israeli midfielder's backward-header to drift marginally wide.

The opener could have come from a goalmouth scramble in the ninth minute when Torres, Benayoun and Gerrard all had good chances to score, but were thwarted by some desperate defense.

Liverpool, which beat Villa here 5-0 last season, then paid for its profligacy when, against the run of play, Villa took the lead in the 34th

Having conceded a free kick, Lucas headed Young's ball into his own net.

"In the first 20 minutes we created plenty of chances and played well," Benitez said. "Then we conceded the own goal and started to make more mistakes."

Liverpool's woes mounted on the stroke of half-time when a corner was awarded much to the annoyance of goalkeeper Reina, who was booked for kicking the ball away.

Davies then rose between Jamie Carragher and Torres to meet Nicky Shorey's corner with a header past Reina.

Even though Liverpool improved after the break, the 38-year-old Friedel was in fine form in the Villa goal.

The former Liverpool 'keeper blocked Gerrard's shot in the first minute, palmed over Dirk Kuyt's header in the 58th and thwarted Gerrard again in the 69th. "Friedel was outstanding - he rolled back the years," Villa manager Martin O'Neill said.

Lucas, at the heart of a midfield desperately short of creativity since Xabi Alonso's offseason transfer to Real Madrid, was brought off in favor of Andriy Voronin.

But it was Torres who gave Liverpool a lifeline in the 72nd when Emiliano Insua pinged the ball across the penalty area and the Spain striker hit home.

But just two minutes later Gerrard tripped Nigel Reo-Coker and Young dispatched the resulting penalty to restore Villa's two-goal cushion.


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