Torres ends Pool's Monday night blues
Published 16/03/2010 | 05:00
AFTER six months of famine, Liverpool, at long last, have rediscovered their appetite for destruction.
Relentless, ruthless, aggressive and offensive, Rafael Benitez's side put Portsmouth to the sword with the sort of display which Anfield, in the depths of its bleak midwinter, must have feared had been consigned to history.
Fernando Torres scored twice, Ryan Babel and Alberto Aquilani once, the Italian's first goal since his £17m summer move from Roma, but the details were almost incidental.
The opposition may be the Premier League's basement dwellers, their doom already definite, but there was an air of authority about the hosts as they picked up their first Monday night victory in 10 attempts, stretching back to 2001.
Only the possibility of action against Steven Gerrard for an apparent off-the-ball swipe on Michael Brown provides a cloud from an evening in which a reinvigorated Liverpool revitalised their challenge to Tottenham, Manchester City and Aston Villa for the fourth Champions League spot.
It is typical of Avram Grant's luck that Liverpool chose Portsmouth's visit to find their form. It is equally predictable that Pompey committed an act of dismal hara-kiri after emerging unscathed from an opening spell in which their hosts might have earned a penalty, Ricardo Rocha seeming to handle Torres' shot.
Liverpool also enjoyed a flurry of set-pieces, the ball fizzing around a nervous Jamie Ashdown, who was standing in for the injured David James, but just as the hosts' momentum was fading, just as Portsmouth were starting to settle, they imploded.
One poor Ashdown clearance was charged down by Gerrard, only for the goalkeeper to be granted a reprieve. Gerrard again blocked, only this time did so in the box. Maxi Rodriguez, lively all evening, rolled the ball to Torres to open the scoring. Scarcely 90 seconds later, it was two, Babel poking home after Torres teed the Dutchman up on the edge of the box.
But where the opening pair were functional, the third was forged in fantasy. Gerrard, emerging from the sullen cocoon in which he has passed much of the winter, clipped a reverse pass to Torres, seemingly meandering down a blind alley to the left of Ashdown's goal. The Spaniard's backheel, spinning the ball back into Gerrard's path, flummoxed all but his favoured partner-in-crime.
The Liverpool captain, equally astute, feigned and dummied and Aquilani, to the delight of the Kop, swept home. Three in six minutes; it was the first time Liverpool had mustered three goals in the league since September.
There could, perhaps, should have been more in the first half. Torres, cutting in from the left, sent a fierce shot cracking against Ashdown's far post before Gerrard flashed wide from yet another Rodriguez cut-back.
Liverpool poured forward inexorably, unveiling a repertoire of flicks and tricks that suggested a confidence so evidently absent for so long. Full-backs Glen Johnson and Emiliano Insua took up station as out-and-out wingers.
This was a catharsis, a bloodlust, a bloodletting. For the first time in months, Liverpool were enjoying themselves. Even Jamie Carragher had a go.
Anfield knows not to get too excited, of course. After all, dismantling the league's lightweights is what is expected in these parts. But as the onslaught continued, albeit with less urgency, after the break, even the most cynical fan would have been forgiven for a sliver of hope.
Twice Gerrard went close, Babel drove on to the bar from the edge of the box and Rodriguez fizzed wide, Ashdown saved from Torres. A further three penalty claims were waved away, though Benitez will no doubt find the generosity of spirit to forgive the referee in the circumstances.
Far more important than bemoaning officiating standards was the statement of intent his side had given.
Liverpool, on this evidence, are not yet finished in the race for the fourth Champions League slot.
They restricted their guests to just two chances of note, the otherwise underemployed Pepe Reina producing a fine reaction save to deny Michael Brown but powerless to stop Nadir Belhadj notching a consolation from Frederic Piquionne's cross, and in attack they brimmed and broiled with menace.
The first is not yet out. The race is not yet run. (© Daily Telegraph, London)