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Liverpool got a bright start in the EPL

In the Liverpool most important team, the Captain is considered almost a national hero. Even if he hadn't scored in a long time ago. Because when he appears, Liverpool can get important victories, like the last one over Aston Villa, by 2-1.

Indeed, Steven Gerrard took 14 games to score his first league goal last season, by which time Liverpool were floundering in mid-table with Man. U. long over the horizon. This campaign was 87 minutes old, with all the familiar doubts about Liverpool's away form resurfacing, when he won and scored the free-kick which earned the first opening-day win since 2002. That the free-kick was a soft decision only confirmed Steven Gerrard's stature. As Sheffield United found on the opening day last season, referees have a habit of saying "yes" when Gerrard appeals.

Afterwards, confided John Arne Riise, the Super Captain addressed the team in the changing room, driving home the need for the Reds to make a good start. Champions League qualifying means they will miss the midweek round offixtures. Losing to Villa could have sent them into the home game with Chelsea on Saturday six points adrift.

"Finally we have three points from the first league encounter," Dirk Kuyt praised. "That was important for us. It's very important that you don't lose many points at the start of the season. We have been too far behind in the last few seasons. We had a very good second half last season. But that's not good enough if you want to be champions."

The problem, last season, was results like these. Liverpool finished 21 points behind Manchester United. The gap was almost entirely attributable to their away form. On the road United won 42 points, Liverpool 22. And Liverpool scored 18 goals away, fewer than Wigan and less than half United's tally.

"We really need to score goals away, then we will win a lot of games," said coach Rafa Benitez, logically enough.

To that end all his most important new plyers are ofensive: Fernando Torres, who started, Ryan Babel and Andrei Voronin, who both came off the bench, and Yossi Benayoun who was left, with Javier Mascherano and Peter Crouch, in Liverpool with a view to Wednesday's European qualifier in Toulouse.

Spaniard frontman Torres looked sharp. His finishing was wayward but his speed of thought and footwork was impressive. He also showed a goodunderstanding with Kuyt. But the Dutchman is also a haphazard finisher and one wonders who will get the necessary goals.

Kuyt's qualities created the opening goal, but it required of a Villa player to score it. Kuyt's dummy gave Torres the chance to draw the first of many fine saves from Stuart Taylor. The Dutch player, a great chaser of lost causes, then collected Taylor's parry and his cross was inadvertently turned in by Martin Laursen.

Benitez team should have gone on to secure the three points with ease. Some of their interplay was superb, though it helped that Villa's midfield was unbalanced and unsure of their roles. And Aston Villa stayed in the game through Taylor. Lastseason the former under-21 international played five matches and conceded ten goals. On the eve of this he was given the confidence-sapping news that Martin O'Neill, concerned by a hamstring strain to Sorensen, had signed Scott Carson on a season-long loan. WithCarson ineligible, Taylor had 90 minutes to show his ability, and he took it.

So, when Barry converted a late penalty after Jamie Carragher's reflex handball it seemed Taylor's heroics would win a point. Then Mike Riley misjudged Stilian Petrov's tackle on Steven Gerrard and the Englishman curled the free-kick over the wall.

"Gerrard remains the heartbeat of that club," O'Neill expressed. "He drives them. He's a great, great player, and he looks as if he is even improving." If only the Villa manager could inject the same desire into John Carew. He also needs a right-back, which would enable the promising Craig Gardner to move into midfield, and more defensive role. A glossy American-influenced brochure was given to fans before the game. It contained the promise, from chief executive Richard Fitzgerald, that "We aim to play a big role in the Champions League". On this evidence, they remain a long way off and the optimism which filled Villa Park could soon disappear.

TLiverpool, meanwhile, walk on with hope in their hearts and a weight off their shoulders. "We were talking before the game," said Benitez. "We knew it was very important to get the thre points: everybody was talking about the pressure."

Even though coach Benitez says Liverpool are still a long waybehind Manchester United and Chelsea, many supporters and journalists disagree. For them it is time to wrest the title back from the Florida franchise, sorry, Old Trafford.

Goals: Laursen og (31) 0-1; Barry pen (85) 1-1; Gerrard (87) 1-2.

Aston Villa: Taylor; Gardner, Mellberg, Laursen (Cahill, 46), Bouma (Moore, 71); Petrov, Reo-Coker, Barry; Agbonlahor, Carew, Young. Substitutes not used: Harewood, Maloney, Osbourne (gk).

Liverpool: Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Arbeloa; Pennant (Babel, 74), Gerrard, Alonso, Riise; Torres (Voronin, 79), Kuyt (Sissoko, 90). Substitutes not used: Itandje (gk), Hyypia.

Referee: M Riley (Yorkshire).

Man of the match: Steven Gerrard.

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