Benayoun sets up Anfield stroll
LIVERPOOL'S journey to Madrid will be far more taxing than this leisurely stroll through West Ham United's defence, which obligingly parted three times to allow goals for Yossi Benayoun, David Ngog and a rebound in off the unfortunate Robert Green.
In stark contrast to their lively support, West Ham's lack of fight was alarming as they remain in 17th position, only three points above Hull City, who play Aston Villa tomorrow. West Ham remain in peril, but at least their goal difference is markedly superior to Hull's.
West Ham had no one in the class of Steven Gerrard, whose set-pieces triggered carnage in the visitors' defence. Such was Liverpool's early control that they could have left even earlier for Madrid. Despite their team's very obvious travails, the West Ham supporters were at least in good voice, taunting the Kop with chants of "Thursday night, Channel Five". Ignoring the jibes, Liverpool let their football do the talking.
Benayoun was really in the mood, taking the game time and again to his old team, doubtless stirred by some of the ribald chants coming his way, scoring early. When Steven Gerrard swung over a free-kick from the right, West Ham's defence froze, allowing Benayoun to glide in and score via his midriff.
Sadly for West Ham, Zola's defence lacked the defiance of their supporters and the visitors almost fell further behind from another chaos-bringing set-piece. This time it was a corner from the right, driven in by Gerrard, perfectly measured to pick out Sotirios Kyrgiakos. Somehow, he managed to head the ball down and over the bar.
Beware Greeks wasting gifts? Liverpool swiftly recovered from the centre-half's aberration, extending their lead through a fine, quick-passing move. Benayoun was again involved, darting through the middle before intelligently switching the ball right to Maxi Rodriguez. The Argentine's cross was immaculate, swept into the box where Ngog deftly redirected it past Green.
In front of the watching Ray Clemence, Fabio Capello's goal-keeping coach, Green picked a bad moment to falter. However much he was let down again by his defenders, West Ham's England 'keeper reacted too slowly to Ngog's finish.
West Ham tried to respond, tried to give their fans some reward for their devotion. Carlton Cole, who was being watched by England's general manager Franco Baldini, embarked on a typical muscular charge through the middle, Liverpool players bouncing off him, before he shot wide.
Badly missing the suspended Scott Parker, West Ham's midfield lacked real bite and Gerrard drove through the middle almost at will. West Ham were so disappointing, so tame. Arguably the best touch from a visitor in the first half came from Zola, neatly controlling a loose ball as it hurtled out for a throw near the tunnel.
Zola had little choice but to gamble at the break, sending on another striker, attempting to pose Liverpool some semblance of a threat. He removed his right-winger, Junior Stanislas, and sent on Guillermo Franco. Franco was often involved, soon lifting a long pass towards Cole on the right only for Glen Johnson to intercept.
After this brief flurry of action from West Ham, the game settled back into its earlier rhythm. Liverpool were dominant, adding a third just before the hour mark. When Gerrard whipped over another free-kick, Kyrgiakos diverted the ball goalwards, it hit the post and rebounded in off the luckless Green.
West Ham finally remembered the art of defending when Gerrard came raiding into the box, being denied only by a block from Manuel da Costa.
West Ham woke up, piecing together a quick attack, bringing Cole one-on-one with Pepe Reina. It was an unequal contest, Reina spreading himself and saving with ease at an Anfield Road End that was far from full. For all the talk of a fans' protest, it appeared the empty seats were a result of Liverpool's Scandinavian and Irish fan clubs being unable to travel.
The Kop was full but quiet and the only real noise emanated from the West Ham section. "4-3, we're going to win 4-3'' they chanted, breaking off from a lengthy version of the Hokey Cokey.
Zola sent on Benni McCarthy for Cole. Rafa Benitez removed Gerrard, who departed to a standing ovation after giving the armband to Jamie Carragher. Some of Gerrard's passing had been superb and Liverpool briefly lost some of their zest. Rodriguez sought to raise the tempo again with a powerful shot that Green clutched at the second attempt. (© Daily Telegraph, London)