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Page last updated at 17:56 GMT, Sunday, 22 March 2009

Liverpool 5-0 Aston Villa

By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Anfield

Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard shows his delight as he scores a hat-trick in the win over Aston Villa
Gerrard was in inspirational form for Liverpool

Liverpool turned up the pressure on faltering Premier League leaders Manchester United as they swept Aston Villa aside with another goal spree at Anfield.

Steven Gerrard inevitably provided the inspiration with his first Premier League hat-trick - two from the spot - as Liverpool sent out another emphatic statement of intent about their renewed title ambitions.

Rafael Benitez celebrated signing a new five-year contract by watching his side seal victory by half-time as they established a three-goal lead - building the platform for a win that leaves Liverpool in second place and just a point behind United after their shock defeat at Fulham.

Liverpool then racked up two more crucial strikes after the interval to extend their goal difference beyond United's, a factor that could become decisive in the coming weeks.

United may still have that crucial game in hand, but the huge shift in momentum since Liverpool's crushing victory at Old Trafford has all at Anfield seriously believing they can overhaul their fierce rivals in the run-in.

Dirk Kuyt started the rout early on with a close-range finish after Gerrard's free-kick was headed on to the crossbar by Xabi Alonso.


Albert Riera half-volleyed home the second from keeper Pepe Reina's long clearance and Gerrard added the third before the interval.

He beat Brad Friedel with ease from the spot after Nigel Reo-Coker had fouled Riera.

With Villa despondent, Gerrard struck again from a well-worked free-kick five minutes after half-time and he sealed his treble on 65 minutes.

It was again a penalty, awarded after Friedel brought down Fernando Torres, an offence that earned Villa's unfortunate keeper a red card.

Defeats for United and Chelsea opened the door for Liverpool to really start breathing down the necks of the pace-setters, and this display was exactly what Benitez would have demanded.

Liverpool's title race looked all-but run after defeat at Middlesbrough at the end of last month, but a series of blistering displays have sent confidence surging through the ranks and re-ignited their hopes of claiming the Premier League and the Champions League.

Real Madrid and United were on the end of four-goal beatings - and here they went one better against a Villa side whose main aim of qualifying for the Champions League appears to be receding on a weekly basis.

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt's goal set his side to a comprehensive win over Aston Villa
Kuyt's goal set Liverpool on the way to victory

Liverpool, in contrast, have found a high tempo to their game that has eluded them too often this season, and despite a good Villa spell midway through the first half that saw Reina twice save well from John Carew, they were always in command.

And it was a victory that did not even require any real flashes of trademark brilliance from Torres, who was kept relatively quiet, such was Liverpool's dominance in all parts of the pitch.

Buoyed by United's setback at Craven Cottage on Saturday, Liverpool opened in the manner of a team who had seen the title come back into their sights in dramatic fashion.

It took only seven minutes for Liverpool to take the lead - and inevitably captain Gerrard was heavily involved.

Alonso glanced his swerving free-kick against the bar and Kuyt was on hand to slam the rebound past Friedel.

Villa needed to survive the predictable early assault from Liverpool, and once they did they had success with their attempts to give Carew the ammunition to cause havoc in the penalty area.

He was twice denied by important saves from Reina, first from a shot at the near post as he got on the end of Ashley Young's cross and then with a header that was turned away superbly by Liverpool's keeper.

Reina was then instrumental in Liverpool's second goal after 33 minutes that broke Villa's resolve and effectively sealed the points.

He launched a long clearance that was allowed to make its way into the Villa penalty area, where Riera lashed a half-volley high past Friedel.

And if Villa harboured any hopes of a revival they were snuffed out six minutes before the interval when Gerrard added Liverpool's third from the penalty spot.

Reo-Coker, pressed into service as an emergency right-back, was having a miserable time and he was lured into a challenge on Riera in the area that was never going to end in anything other than a spot-kick, which Gerrard duly dispatched.

Gerrard scored his second, and Liverpool's fourth, after 50 minutes when he slid a wonderfully-precise low finish beyond Friedel from Alonso's tapped free-kick.

With goal difference emerging as a real factor, The Kop urged Liverpool forward and their rampant side obliged.

Liverpool made it five after 65 minutes in a moment that summed up Villa's afternoon.

Torres raced clear and was hauled down by Friedel - although there seemed little malice in the keeper's challenge.

Referee Martin Atkinson produced the red card and substitute keeper Brad Guzan's first task was to pick Gerrard's penalty out of the net as the Liverpool captain completed his hat-trick.

Liverpool then played out time and conserved energy for battles ahead - safe in the knowledge that they had sent out another warning signal to United.

Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa (Agger 76), Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Mascherano, Alonso (Lucas 66), Gerrard (Ngog 80), Kuyt, Riera, Torres.
Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Hyypia, El Zhar.

Booked: Gerrard.

Goals: Kuyt 8, Riera 33, Gerrard 39 pen, 50, 65 pen.

Aston Villa: Friedel, Reo-Coker (Guzan 64), Cuellar, Davies, Luke Young, Milner, Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Heskey (Agbonlahor 58), Carew (Gardner 88).
Subs Not Used: Delfouneso, Knight, Salifou, Shorey.

Sent Off: Friedel (64).

Booked: Luke Young, Gardner.

Att: 44,131

Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

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see also
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More to come from Reds - Benitez
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Sunday's football photos
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