Torres multiplies his goal tally as commanding Liverpool go fourth
By Neil Johnston at Anfield
Liverpool are back up to fourth in the table courtesy of Fernando Torres' third hat-trick for the club but Rafa Benítez knows his players are unlikely to come up against such inferior opposition again this season as West Ham proved to be at Anfield.
After leapfrogging neighbours Everton on goal difference following a one-sided contest, Liverpool are now favourites to secure the fourth and final Champions League berth with 10 Premier League games remaining.
With Torres in such commanding form, it is a task they ought to achieve comfortably. Steven Gerrard capped an easy victory with a typical long-range finish in front of the Kop but the night belonged to Liverpool's No9.
All three goals showcased Torres's astonishing, lethal touch in front of goal, an inherent awareness of the goalscorer's art, his raw pace and power. Given the stop-start nature of his debut season in English football and the rollercoaster nature of his team's campaign to date, a return of 24 goals by this stage of the season borders on the amazing.
Benítez has come under fire for resting too many players this season but his decision to name Torres in his starting line-up, despite the player suffering a stomach upset on the eve of the match, was a wise move on the part of the Liverpool manager.
West Ham, for their part, hardly threatened before Torres opened the scoring in the eighth minute. The Londoners threatened even less after that.
"We made no impression on Liverpool at all," said Alan Curbishley as he conducted his second inquest in four days into a 4-0 defeat. "I knew games against Chelsea and Liverpool would be tough but I didn't expect this. It's the first time they have let themselves down this season. The last two performances just haven't been good enough. We've just had a meeting in the dressing room. It wasn't a crisis meeting but we've just played two Champions League clubs and have not made any impression on them."
This was a potential minefield for a Liverpool team whose season has been littered with unexpected and frustrating setbacks against sides anchored in mid-table or below. It was also the game in hand Benítez had harped on so much about for weeks as his side fell away from the top three.
A strong start was imperative for Liverpool if they were to take advantage of their game in hand. Their supporters need not have worried.
Any side featuring the sublime talents of Torres can never be discounted and he effectively determined the game. Benítez's side began the game in determined fashion, looking brisk and business-like and attacking in numbers with width and penetration.
Yet the only time their dominance was rewarded before half time came when Torres drilled the ball home from 12 yards following Dirk Kuyt's cross.
West Ham simply caved in after the interval. Ryan Babel, who was having one of his better games, forced Robert Green into a fine save before the unmarked Torres punished sloppy defending with a simple header from Kuyt, who seems to have set up as many goals as Torres has scored. Curbishley reacted by introducing Jonathan Spector but he was clearly not the substitute West Ham's travelling fans wanted to see at this stage. "Boring, boring West Ham," they sang.
Torres was looking more dangerous as the game wore on and he hit the woodwork in the 66th minute before completing his hat-trick after showing terrific composure in front of a delighted Kop.
Gerrard completed West Ham's second 4-0 drubbing inside a week with a trademark finish from 25-yards, the England midfielder's 18th goal of the season.
This was Liverpool's fifth straight win in all competitions. Newcastle are the next visitors to Anfield. Kevin Keegan could not have chosen a worse time to return to his former club.
Copyright - The Guardian