Liverpool ensured it was an unhappy return for former manager Gerard Houllier with a comfortable 3-0 Premier League win over Aston Villa at Anfield on Monday.
David Ngog and Ryan Babel’s first-half strikes and a tidy Maxi Rodriguez goal sealed victory for Roy Hodgson’s side and lifted them to eighth in the league table. Villa stayed 16th.
The match was a first competitive return to Anfield for Frenchman Houllier who left Liverpool in 2004 after six years as manager having won five trophies in 2001. It was not to be a memorable one, though, as Liverpool raced into an early lead with two quickfire goals.
The first came from a corner on 14 minutes when Ngog dived on to a Martin Skrtel header to beat goalkeeper Brad Friedel from close range and the hosts were two up minutes later.
Babel, replacing the absent Fernando Torres whose wife had just gone into labor, latched on to a Lucas through ball on the edge of the box before swiveling to finish sweetly from an angle.
Liverpool, also without injured defender Jamie Carragher and captain Steven Gerrard, added a third 10 minutes after the break when Rodriguez calmly swept home an incisive counterattack.
The defeat prolonged a poor spell for Villa who have won just once in 10 league matches and hardly created a clear-cut goalscoring chance at Anfield.
Defenders Glen Johnson and Sotirios Kyrgiakos went close to stretching Liverpool’s lead, the latter having a header cleared off the line.
Houllier, who has also managed France and Ligue 1 sides Paris Saint Germain and Olympique Lyon, was appointed Villa boss in September.
NAPOLI V PALERMO
REUTERS, MILAN, ITALY
Christian Maggio netted five minutes into stoppage time to give fourth-placed Napoli a 1-0 win over Palermo on Monday in the final Serie A match for almost two weeks unless a players’ strike is avoided.
Hosts Napoli, who moved level on points with Juventus in third, went close through former Palermo striker Edinson Cavani and finally made the breakthrough when the Uruguayan set up Maggio for almost the last kick of the match.
The game was billed as a battle of the South Americans between Cavani and Palermo teammate Javier Pastore and his fellow Argentine Ezequiel Lavezzi of Napoli, who went off injured, but in the end an Italian settled matters.
Serie A players are due to strike this weekend in a dispute with the league over a new collective contract, with the union refusing to agree to plans to force unwanted soccer players to train away from the first team squad or accept a transfer.
The soccer federation were to hold the latest in a series of talks yesterday in a bid to stop the unpopular strike, which several players have said is not a good idea given Italy’s economic plight and the large wages soccer players receive.
Media and angry fans have also said the industrial action would be an own goal for the players’ union, who have left the door open for a possible late compromise.
DEPORTIVO V HERCULES
AP, A CORUNA, SPAIN
Nouioui Lassad’s second-half goal saw a defensive Deportivo La Coruna squeak out a 1-0 victory over Hercules in Spain on Monday.
Neither club created many --clear-cut chances at El Riazor stadium, but the Galicians finally broke through in the 73rd-minute through striker Lassad. Hercules rarely even tested the Deportivo goal.
Deportivo improved to 17 points, while Hercules stayed on 15 points.