Hodgson backs Babel after Reds romp
Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson insisted he'd always had faith in Ryan Babel after the Dutchman marked his first Premier League start this season with a goal in a 3-0 victory against Aston Villa at Anfield on Monday.
Babel was reportedly close to leaving Merseyside in pre-season but he set up Milan Jovanovic's goal in the 1-1 draw at Steaua Bucharest last week and kept his place against Villa when Fernando Torres pulled out on matchday because his wife was giving birth to their second child.
Midfielder Babel's 16th minute goal, which followed hot on the heels of David Ngog's 14th minute opener, all but sealed a victory confirmed by Maxi Rodriguez's second half effort that saw Liverpool move up to eighth and left a Villa side managed by former Anfield boss Gerard Houllier eyeing the drop.
"I've never written Ryan Babel off," Hodgson said. "His chances have been limited because we have Torres, David Ngog and Steven Gerrard who plays alongside so the competition is fierce. But I'd never written him off and I have also accepted his claim that he prefers and is better playing centrally than being forced to play wide.
"We've worked on training with him in those positions and he did well at Steaua Bucharest. When Fernando [Torres} was unable to play I had no hesitation in putting him in the team because by doing that I could keep the same shape as in recent weeks and it's a shape which I think is serving the club well."
Villa have won just once in their last 10 league games and 63-year-old former France manager Houllier, who led Liverpool to FA Cup, UEFA Cup and two League Cup triumphs during six years in charge at Anfield between 1998 and 2004, is now in charge of a side just two points above the relegation zone. "We need to address a few problems in the team at the moment and one of the main ones is that we need to defend better as a team," Houllier said.
"We need to address things as players and staff. There are some areas we have improved but changing the way we play and approach the game and we need to be stronger mentally as a team. That's always been one of my main features."
By contrast, Hodgson was able to congratulate Pepe Reina in becoming the quickest Liverpool goalkeeper to keep 100 clean sheets in the league. Former England keeper Ray Clemence achieved the feat in 217 games but the 28-year-old Reina, who joined the Reds from Villarreal in 2006, got to the milestone in his 198th Premier League appearance.
"I can only congratulate him on being the fastest Liverpool goalkeeper to reach 100 clean sheets," Hodgson said. "He's done it in the face of some very stiff competition, in particular Clemence and (Bruce) Grobbelaar, two legendary goalkeepers for this club."
Reina played down his achievement by saying "thanks to the boys because it's up to them".
And Hodgson added: "It was also fantastic to hear him pay tribute to the defences in front of him, not just this one but defences before because goalkeepers breaking records need good defences in front of them."
Houllier's Anfield return
Even though his return to Anfield was spoilt by the result Houllier, who underwent heart surgery while in charge of Liverpool, was delighted with the reception he received from the Reds faithful. "The fans were good," Houllier said.
"I appreciated the fact that they chanted my name at the end. It means they can remember. There was a banner before the start of the game. I wasn't emotional but I was extremely touched by that."