Torres torment for a sensitive Sol
Sol Campbell escaped derision from a Liverpool crowd in the same festive mood as the Portsmouth defence though, if you will pardon the expression, he was still given a fearful roasting by Fernando Torres.
Torres has acceleration and agility to burn, and Campbell is beginning to creak in his veteran years, so while asking one to mark the other was not quite a human-rights issue it might have been a case for the League Against Cruel Sports.
When Torres took on the Pompey captain he generally won and before the visitors knew it they were two goals down. It could have been worse, too. Only a timely intervention by Glen Johnson prevented Dirk Kuyt turning in a cross from Torres after a blistering burst of speed and perfect square pass.
The full-back collided with his own goalkeeper in making the block and was still off the field receiving treatment when Liverpool took the lead in the 13th minute.
Torres took on Campbell for pace and beat him hands down and this time Sylvain Distin had to slide across to intercept the flying centre-forward. The ball only reached Harry Kewell on the left, however, and when he returned it to the middle Yossi Benayoun thumped a volley past David James from the edge of the penalty area.
Three minutes later Portsmouth were in even worse disarray, again through the threat posed by Torres's pace. When Kuyt slipped him into the danger zone Campbell did a good job of standing him up in the penalty area and getting a foot in to dispossess the Spaniard, only to see the ball rebound off Distin and cross the goalline with James stranded.
The next time Torres came calling Campbell was left on his backside and Steven Gerrard might have done better than shoot wide of the target. With less than a quarter of the game gone Portsmouth must have been longing already for the sanctuary of the dressing room. It seemed that Liverpool could score at will, and the fact the interval arrived with no further additions to the scoresheet was mainly due to the home side understandably losing some of their urgency.
Liverpool fielded something approaching their strongest line-up, their attacking options simplified somewhat by the absence of Peter Crouch, who according to Rafa Benitez in the match programme was unlucky to be sent off against Chelsea in midweek. '[Jon Obi] Mikel kicked him twice and that was the reason he lost his head,' Benitez explained. It makes you wonder what sort of a challenge a Liverpool player would have to put in for his manager to hold his hand up and admit that it might have warranted a red card.
Portsmouth began the second half determined to show the match was not over and the result a foregone conclusion. First Papa Bouba Diop went close, then Kanu, then Hermann Hreidarsson, so Liverpool could not say they had not been warned when Benjani pulled a goal back in the 57th minute. An excellent goal it was too, with Kanu picking out Benjani at the far post with a floated ball over the Liverpool defence, for the striker to bring the ball down expertly and turn past Sami Hyypia and John Arne Riise before lashing a shot beyond Jose Reina.
That not only woke up the oddly subdued travelling support, it breathed life back into the contest. Or at least it did for 10 minutes, until Portsmouth's next mix-up at the back handed Torres a goal. Ryan Babel accepted Javier Mascherano's pass and cut in from the right, James came off his line to cut out the danger and only succeeded in pushing the ball out to Torres, who had only a small section of the goal to aim at but was never likely to miss with a free shot from 12 yards.
Torres's battles after that were mostly with the offside flag. He lost more than his fair share, and it is possible his pace is just as much a challenge for assistant referees' eyesight as it is for opponents. In the 79th minute, though, attempting to run at the Portsmouth defence with the ball at his feet, he was cleanly dispossessed by Campbell. At the end of a difficult week for the Premier League's most sensitive soul it must have felt like a major victory. Pity Torres had to spoil it by outpacing Campbell before the end to win a corner, then accepting Gerrard's headed pass to volley in his second of the afternoon.
'Torres is a fantastic talent, but we looked all over the show at times,' Harry Redknapp complained. 'We got back to 2-1 then conceded two terrible goals. We haven't been able to train for two days and it showed. The pitch was frozen. You should see our training facilities. If we finish in the top half of the table again it will be a bonus.'
Man of the match: Fernando Torres
Scored two goals and made two others, and was visibly quicker in thought and action than anyone else on the pitch. Cannot play against Sol Campbell every week, though, and could have done with a performance like this against Manchester United last weekend.
13' Benayoun 1-0
16' Distin (og) 2-0
57' 2-1 Mwaruwari
67' Torres 3-1
85' Torres 4-1
Jose Manuel Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Yossi Benayoun (Ryan Babel), Steven Gerrard, Harry Kewell (Fabio Aurelio), Javier Mascherano, John Arne Riise, Dirk Kuyt, Fernando Torres (Lucas Leiva)
David James, Sol Campbell, Sylvain Distin, Hermann Hreidarsson, Glen Johnson (Etame Mayer Lauren), Papa Bouba Diop, Niko Kranjcar, Sulley Muntari (Matthew Taylor), Miguel Pedro Mendes, John Utaka (Nwankwo Kanu), Benjani Mwaruwari
Referee: Riley, M
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