Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Fernando Torres and Aquilani lead Anfield demolition squad

Liverpool 4 Portsmouth 1

Liverpool's Fernando Torres celebrates scoring their fourth and his second goal of the game during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool.

Midfielder Alberto Aquilani finally put on a display to justify his £17million price tag, capping a masterful performance with his first Liverpool goal in the 4-1 win over Portsmouth at Anfield.

The summer signing, brought in after Xabi Alonso's sale to Real Madrid, has struggled to adapt to life in England but was at the heart of everything in only his fifth Barclays Premier League start.

Fernando Torres scored twice, with Ryan Babel and Aquilani adding goals in between his strikes, before Nadir Belhadj hit a late consolation.

It was the first time since they beat Hull 6-1 on September 26 that Liverpool had scored more than two goals in a league match and that helped lift them to fifth in the table, a point behind Tottenham having played one match more.

However, of their three assignments this week - they face Lille on Thursday trailing 1-0 in the Europa League before heading to Old Trafford on Sunday - this was by far the easiest.

For Portsmouth the defeat ensured their 59-year winless run at Anfield continued but, considering their off-field problems, it will hardly have a defining impact on their season.

Strangely, Liverpool had not won on a Monday evening in their last nine attempts, with five draws and four defeats.

Their most recent victory came with Gary McAllister's last-minute free-kick at Everton in April 2001.

With a record like that they needed a positive start and the intent was apparent from the off as Torres' run towards the penalty area inside the first minute was halted only by Marc Wilson's tug.

Having cranked up the pressure against the massed ranks of Portsmouth's defence - with Torres and Gerrard both having penalty shouts turned down - Liverpool eventually made the breakthrough they were so desperate for in the 26th minute.

It was with more than a slice of good fortune, however, and came courtesy of goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown, making only his fourth appearance this season because of David James' calf injury.

Ashdown drilled Ricardo Rocha's back-pass straight at Gerrard and the ball dropped to Maxi Rodriguez, who squared for Torres to roll a shot into the empty net.

Two minutes later Glen Johnson's cross to the far post dropped to Torres, who turned former Liverpool defender Steve Finnan before slipping a pass inside for Babel to poke home.

In the 32nd minute the goal that all Anfield - and Aquilani - had hoped for came when Gerrard played in Torres, who crossed back for his captain to dummy and allow his team-mate to fire home in front of the Kop.

Torres could have made it 4-0 in the 35th minute when he cut in from the left to curl a right-foot shot beyond Ashdown only to see it rebound back off the post. Gerrard fired wide from Johnson's return ball.

Portsmouth were slow to return for the second half and it was perhaps understandable as the barrage continued almost immediately.

In probably the best move of the match, the ball was worked in from the right starting with Rodriguez and going through Torres, Aquilani, Babel, and Aquilani again before Gerrard's shot at the far post was charged down by Ashdown.

From the same move the Portsmouth goalkeeper's fingertip save then tipped Babel's shot onto the crossbar and over.

Portsmouth threatened in the 55th minute when Brown's shot was instinctively touched over by Jose Reina.

But it was only a brief respite as Rodriguez fired wide and Johnson should have had a penalty when Belhadj brought down the England international.

Gerrard departed in the 74th minute, having just been involved in a clash with Brown in which the Reds captain appeared to thrust an arm across his opponent's face, as Yossi Benayoun came on.

Aquilani's dream night continued in the 77th minute when he threaded a pass to Torres in the penalty area and he cut back onto his right foot to blast a shot inside the near post.

The Spaniard, who has now scored 15 Premier League goals to beat his tally of last season, was immediately replaced by David Ngog.

Torres, who looks to be returning to his lethal best having been sidelined for five weeks after a knee operation, left to a standing ovation.

But the real plaudits - after a long wait - went to Aquilani and even a late goal from Belhadj, sidefooting in Frederic Piquionne's volley across goal, could not spoil his night.

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