Liverpool 4 Bolton Wanderers 0: Torres class helps clear the storm clouds from Anfield
Rain there was in some abundance but the storm clouds have, for the time being at least, most definitely cleared from over Anfield.
It is hard to conceive after the travails of recent days that Liverpool remain unbeaten in the league and the assured manner with which they stepped up to third place in the table yesterday allowed Rafael Benitez to revel in his present, rather than future, workforce and seriously aspire to bring back a certain piece of silverware which has been missing for 17 years.
Bolton were dreadful and overcome with an ease which suggests Gary Megson must do more than instill the old Sam Allardyce fibre into his charges. But Benitez's side has scored 21 times in a five-match winning sequence now and Torres, with 11 in 17, looks at least as good as the 20-a-season player his manager says he is. He was a threat whenever in possession and the space his movement created for Peter Crouch, starting with him for the first time this season, provided four clear chances for the Englishman.
Click play to listen to Rafa Benitez's post-match press conference
Benitez is not getting carried away. "The last three years we were too far [from the leaders]," he said last night. "This year we are closer, we have a better squad and I have confidence but we need to talk about this at the end of January and see what the situation is." The turgid performances which Lancastrian opposition brought out in Liverpool, both at the JJB Stadium and Ewood Park this autumn, raised doubts they would still be in touch come the New Year but that seems an eternity away now that Torres is supplying as effectively as he finishes and removing the weight of responsibility from Steven Gerrard.
The goal which put this game beyond Bolton's reach just before half time Torres taking down Gerrard's sweeping 40-yard pass and clipping with exquisite touch over the advancing Jussi Jaaskelainan revealed the depth of the Spaniard's talent and, for the second successive week, he might have scored more. Running 25 yards right to left across the face of goal just after the hour, he turned and clipped just beyond the right hand post.
Steven Gerrard was not to be outdone, either, with another immense display. He has scored in eight of the past nine games and had already supplied the cross which Sami Hyypia converted after easily losing Abdoulaye Meite on 16 minutes, before picking out Torres for the second. The defensive frailties exposed by the first goal depressed Megson. "I won't try to dress it up," he said.
By contrast, there were signs of the squad strength which Benitez will need as Liverpool enter the most dense league terrain of the season. Harry Kewell, starting for the first time, showed the first of several fleeting touches of his artistry with the game three minutes old sliding a short pass through the centre for Yossi Benayoun. His drive was palmed to Crouch, whose shot was cleared off the line by Lubomir Michalik. Liverpool fans will only hope he is not flattering to deceive again.
Bolton are under instructions to revive the more basic elements of the Allardyce regime and El-Hadji Diouf, never a favourite here, showed he had taken the message to heart with his challenge on Alvaro Arbeloa for which his yellow card looked lenient. Michalik provided more of the same. And yet for a fleeting moment a turning point, as it transpired it seemed that Liverpool's ambitions might have been thwarted, just as Manchester United's were eight days earlier. A through ball by Kevin Davies toward Nicolas Anelka caused havoc for Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina, who collided in their efforts to deal with it and left Anelka, a constant danger despite Hyypia's accomplished marking, with an open goal. His shot clipped the side netting.
"He rarely makes mistakes but he missed today, which is unfortunate," a rueful Gary Megson reflected. Carragher, substituted because of the rib he injured in the collision, has suffered no serious damage.
Bolton created more in that period of possession, illustrating Megson's wisdom in playing Davies in a right midfield role. Arbeloa cleared his dangerous low cross with Diouf breathing down his neck. But there was no more resistance after the questionable penalty dispatched by Gerrard after Crouch was adjudged to have been pulled down.
Dirk Kuyt arrived in place as a standing ovation sounded for the departing Torres and within eight minutes he supplied Ryan Babel, another substitute, with a fourth. Gerrard again started the move with another raking pass to the right and Jaaskelainen could only parry Kuyt's resulting cross into the path of the Dutchman, who almost added a fifth two minutes from time when his header from Benayoun's cross was cleared off the line by Meike.
Asked whether the transfer window will change things for him, Megson said that competing more was all that his team must focus on. From Benitez, there were more coded hints of suppressed disgruntlement as he repeated in his programme notes the infamous orders he has received from America now so familiar that the Anfield Road end has put etched them on a banner. He knew fans were marching for him on Wednesday night, he said, but "as always I was focused on winning the game. That is my main responsibility." But last night, after sending a message to Arsenal and Manchester United, even he was contentedly to keep money talk out of things.
Goals: 1-0 (Hyypia, 16) 2-0 (Torres, 44) 3-0 (Gerrard pen, 54) 4-0 (Babel 85)
Liverpool (4-1-3-2): Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher (Hobbs, 50), Hyypia, Riise; Lucas; Kewell (Babel, 66) Lucas, Gerrard, Benayoun; Crouch, Torres (Kuyt, 76). Substitutes not used: Itandje, Mascherano
Bolton (4-5-1) Jaaskelainen; Samuel, Meite, Michalik, McCann; Davies, Campo, Speed, Gardner; Diouf (Stelios, 65); Anelka. Substitutes not used: Al Habsi, Wilhelmsson, Andranik, Alonso
Referee: S Bennett (Kent)
Bookings Bolton Diouf (11), Campo (60), Michalik (69)
Man of the Match: Fernando Torres.