Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 2

Rafa Benitez's buying spree paid an early dividend with a smart away win - Liverpool's first opening day success since they beat Aston Villa five years ago.

In a highly-charged finish Liverpool dramatically carved out their success with skipper Steven Gerrard pulling the game out of the fire with an 86th-minute winner only three minutes after Gareth Barry had equalised from the spot for Villa.

Liverpool were undoubtedly a class above Villa for long spells in a game which turned in favour of Benitez's side with a tragic own goal from Martin Laursen in the 31st minute as the Merseyside club extended their unbeaten run against the Midlands outfit to 12 games.

Laursen certainly had a torrid time against the silky skills of Fernando Torres. The 24-year-old Spaniard from Atletico Madrid demonstrated several times that he is a dangerous man on the ball but could not mark his Premiership debut with a goal.

It was, however, Torres who produced the shot which Villa's stand-in goalkeeper, Stuart Taylor, brilliantly turned to his right to the lurking Dirk Kuyt who quickly sent over a cross which the luckless Laursen, attempting to push the ball over the bar, turned into his own net.

Villa, in sharp contrast to Liverpool, took a long time to find any attacking flair. Newcomer Nigel Reo-Cocker was hardly seen in the first half as Villa played second fiddle to the smooth operating Liverpool side.

Skipper Gerrard was often the inspiration, while the Dutchman, Kuyt, was a potential threat with his strong play which dove-tailed into the silky skill of Torres.

As a result, Liverpool created far more goal opportunities than Villa, who produced a performance akin to last season when they struggled to find any attacking flair.

Their first spell of attacking pressure came early in the second half when Reo-Cocker aimlessly shot wide when advancing onto the Liverpool goal.

Liverpool periodically lifted their game as they illustrated in the 63rd minute when Kuyt, having a field day, carved open Villa's defence as he pulled the ball back into the path of Gerrard.

Craig Gardner, a make-shift full-back, found himself blocking Gerrard's effort and taking the full force of a blockbuster of a shot.

Gerrard was foiled again when Taylor, who expects to be replaced by recent signing Scott Carson in the next game, distinguished himself by palming away the England skipper's goalbound shot.

Jermaine Pennant, hardly a favourite with the Villa crowd, made way for Ryan Babel who narrowly missed scoring within a couple of minutes after Kuyt again pulled the ball back into the path of his colleague.

Villa finished on a strong note and six minutes from time Jamie Carragher handled in the area following a deft header by John Carew and skipper Barry hammered home the 84th-minute spot-kick.

But three minutes from time Stiliyan Petrov conceded a highly disputed free-kick which Gerrard skillfully guided into the top corner of the net.