Aston Villa 0-0 Liverpool
By Andrew McKenzie
Barry faced the side that chased his signature all summer
Liverpool and Aston Villa played out a cagey goalless draw at Villa Park.
John Carew was denied by the feet of Pepe Reina, while David Ngog shot just over the bar after being set up by Robbie Keane in a dour first half.
Keane was put clean through by Javier Mascherano in the second half but scuffed his shot wide in front of goal.
Substitute James Milner had a late chances to wrap up all three points on his return to the club, but Reds keeper Pepe Reina saved comfortably.
With Chelsea held by Tottenham, Liverpool had the chance to go top of the league on a ground they have enjoyed plenty of success over the years.
But it was a Liverpool performance desperately short of creativity and in the end they were left hanging on for the point.
Gareth Barry’s bitter on-off transfer saga over the summer meant there would be an extra spice to the clash.
Both Rafa Benitez and Martin O’Neill shared a polite handshake before the game, but it seemed that both managers were more concerned with avoiding defeat than going for the three points.
Liverpool’s attack was already looking blunt when they lost Fernando Torres to injury inside the first half hour.
The Spanish striker appeared to tweak his hamstring chasing down a poor pass from Javier Mascherano.
His replacement David Ngog could have broken the deadlock just before half-time when he was teed-up by Keane, only to shoot over under pressure from Martin Laursen.
But other than that half-chance Liverpool were only a passing threat on the Villa goal in the opening 45 minutes.
The ineffective Lucas fired well into the stands, Xabi Alonso attempted to lob ex-Reds keeper Brad Friedel from just inside his own half without much threat and Dirk Kuyt drilled into the side-netting.
Benitez (left) and O’Neill exchange pleasantries before the game
Villa were the much more fluent side, with Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Carew offering much more pace and creativity.
Carew had the best chance after Barry had slipped in a probing pass for Ashley Young, who cut it back for Carew but his tentative sidefoot shot was easily saved by Reina’s feet.
Both sides picked up the pace in the second half, with Liverpool staring more brightly and Kuyt threatening from an Alonso corner only to be muscled off the ball by Curtis Davies.
Andrea Dossena saw his powerful shot deflected off target by Nicky Shorey’s body, while at the other end of the pitch Stiliyan Petrov flashed a shot just past the post.
Mascherano released Keane through on goal but he mis-hit his shot with Nigel Reo-Coker doing brilliantly to get back and put him off.
Milner had the chance to mark his return to Villa Park with the winner, but his curling effort was too close to Reina.
In the dying stages Laursen had a free header from close range but could not direct it on target.
Aston Villa: Friedel, Luke Young (Milner 64), Laursen, Davies, Shorey (Gardner 79), Reo-Coker, Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Carew, Agbonlahor.
Subs Not Used: Guzan, Harewood, Knight, Salifou, Routledge.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Dossena, Kuyt (Aurelio 70), Alonso, Mascherano, Leiva Lucas, Keane (Benayoun 79), Torres (Ngog 30).
Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Agger, Babel, El Zhar.
Booked: Skrtel, Dossena.
Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Aston Villa’s Ashley Young (6.96 on 90 minutes).
Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport’s Player Rater after the match has finished.