Extra class of Torres puts Liverpool in free-wheeling form

If a football club lived by statistics alone Liverpool would be in perfect health. Here was a fifth consecutive win in all competitions with 21 goals rung up over the course of them. Even if life at Anfield does not have the near perfection of those figures, such results ought to put the disagreements between the manager, Rafael Benítez, and the club's owners into cold storage.
There were a few reasons why this fixture could have been an irritant to Liverpool. An anti-climax was feasible after the 4-1 Champions League victory over Porto in midweek and Bolton, on the sort of form that defeated Manchester United the previous weekend, could have added to the frustration. Liverpool would not let such factors have any effect on them and turned this into an enjoyable afternoon for themselves. 

Bolton's manager, Gary Megson, would privately have factored defeat here into his calculations of how the side might yet survive in the Premier League. But still there ought to have been disappointments. It would be a mistake for him to dwell on a missed chance when Liverpool were merely 1-0 ahead.

It will be hard, nonetheless, to forget it entirely. After 38 minutes Jamie Carragher impeded his own goalkeeper, José Reina, and the ball ran to Nicolas Anelka. He lifted his head to check his position yet still missed an open goal from the corner of the six-yard box. Even if he had not perpetrated that blunder the France striker would still have been disconsolate.

Anelka was so isolated that he seldom looked as if he was part of the side and surely, with a transfer anticipated, he will no longer be part of the club come January. Life is far more fruitful for attackers on the Anfield payroll.

Liverpool move into third place in the Premier League table on goal difference, having outscored Manchester United to date. That may sound a touch unlikely since Benítez has not generally been associated with free-wheeling football. In part he owes his reputation to an expertise in the sort of tactics that apply the brakes to a football game.

Nonetheless he had the practicality to realise that flair was essential if Liverpool are at last to challenge for the title. His spending was at its weightiest and wisest in the £26.5m purchase of Fernando Torres and for that sum he got a forward with pace, height, competitiveness, skill and precise finishing. A goal here took him to 11 in 17 appearances for the club.

The beauty of this transfer deal, however, is that it secured a footballer for whom goals are only one element of the contribution. In this game Torres formed a large and larger partnership with Peter Crouch. So constant was the havoc created by the Spaniard that the Englishman had extensive scope and could have scored a hat-trick if his finishing had not been untypically suspect.

Still, this was no day to find fault with any Liverpool player. Bolton were helpless and when the referee, Steve Bennett, settled on a booking instead of a red card for El Hadji Diouf's terrible foul on Alvaro Arbeloa in the 11th minute he was imposing a greater punishment by making him stay on the field for the bulk of this drubbing.

Bolton, despite being renowned as a strong side, let Liverpool take the lead simply in the 17th minute as Sami Hyypia headed in a Steven Gerrard free-kick. That early breakthrough encouraged a light-heartedness in Benítez's line-up, which had room for entertainers such as Harry Kewell and Yossi Benayoun in midfield.

On the verge of half-time the fixture became more elementary still as Gerrard fed Torres. The attacker was marked by Lubomir Michalik but the goalkeeper, Jussi Jaaskelainen, opted to race off his line and was expertly chipped for the day's second goal.

An apparent injury to Jamie Carragher was about all that could trouble Benítez. With 56 minutes gone Abdoulaye Méïté was judged to have fouled Crouch and Gerrard converted the penalty. Four minutes from the end Ryan Babel completed the scoring after being set up by Dirk Kuyt.

That interplay between the substitutes evoked the strength and depth of the Liverpool squad, though that had hardly been essential to overpower Bolton.

Man of the match Fernando Torres

Apart from his capacity to bring an edge to Liverpool's attacking he also greatly enhances their entertainment value.

Best moment The composure with which he took his goal.

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Match Facts
Premier League
Sunday December 02, 2007
FT Liverpool 4-0 Bolton
11' Diouf
17' Hyypia 1-0
45' Torres 2-0
56' Gerrard (penalty) 3-0
61' Ivan Campo
69' Michalik
86' Babel 4-0
Jose Manuel Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Jamie Carragher (Jack Hobbs), Sami Hyypia, Yossi Benayoun, Steven Gerrard, Harry Kewell (Ryan Babel), Lucas Leiva, John Arne Riise, Peter Crouch, Fernando Torres (Dirk Kuyt)

Jussi Jaaskelainen, Abdoulaye Meite, Lubomir Michalik, Jlloyd Samuel, Ricardo Gardner, Ramos Ivan Campo, Gavin McCann, Gary Speed, Nicolas Anelka, Kevin Davies, El Hadji Diouf (Stelios Giannakopoulos)

Referee: Bennett, S

Venue: Anfield

Attendance: 43,270

Liverpool 5
Bolton 5

Goal Attempts:
Liverpool 24
Bolton 5

On Target:
Liverpool 15
Bolton 3

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

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