Sunday, March 22, 2009

Liverpool gain on Manchester United and dent Villa's hope for Europe

AP Photo/Paul Thomas

Unlike previous weekends, when Manchester United's grasp on first place was only solidified by disappointing results from the remaining top four, this weekend belonged to Liverpool.

Hosting fifth place Aston Villa at Anfield provided the most compelling match of the weekend, discounting a poor result from Chelsea at Spurs and a multi-faceted collapse by Manchester United at Fulham. The Reds' move to second place was solidified before half time, when Steven Gerrard scored his side's third goal in the 39th minute.

Dirk Kuyt opened the scoring on a free kick that pinged off the crossbar. Still, you had a sense that this was going to be an open end-to-end game. And it was, but without any finality to Villa's attack. A nicely-taken volley by Albert Riera from a Pepe Reina kick opened the door for the visitors' doom. And at that point, Aston Villa crumbled.

Two goals later, and Aston Villa can now heartily compete with Manchester United for the worst performance of the weekend, at least among the top half of the table. What looked like a possible season in the sun for Villa now seems to lay in tatters. What destiny Martin O'Neill's side held in their hands has now been transferred elsewhere, as it's up to Arsenal to hand fourth place to the Villans, who trail the Gunners and fourth place by three points.

For Liverpool, the momentum is certainly surging. With Rafa Benitez's new contract extension, Steven Gerrard on top form, and the opportunity for glory both at home and in Europe, the Reds look destined to challenge Manchester United for first, and should at least finish second.

But Liverpool's destiny remains in the hands of Manchester United, who still have a game in hand and a one-point advantage. If Rafa's Reds can duplicate their tempo and crisp passing for the remainder of the season, they'll have achieved their potential, which may or may not include a trophy.

Liverpool in the mix again [Examiner]

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