Perhaps it was Fernando Torres's absence from last season's Goodison derby which led David Moyes to overlook him when asked before this game who he feared most in Liverpool's side. The Everton manager will not be making that mistake again. Three minutes and two touches of the ball were all it took for the Spaniard to condemn Moyes' side to further misery in this fixture and in this season.
Unacquainted with Goodison Park Torres might have been before yesterday, and perhaps still adjusting to life after the euphoria of Spain's glorious summer, but he does not tend to pass up the kind of opportunities which Everton handed him. Other managers will be paying heed too: Liverpool have progressed through much of their best six-game start to a Premier League campaign without a firing Torres, and their threat with him is untold.
Torres's opener, a free volley from five yards after Robbie Keane had controlled a Xabi Alonso ball which seemed just beyond him and chipped the ball over, and his second, a smoothly dispatched shot after Phil Jagielka's challenge on Dirk Kuyt saw the ball fall into his path, were his response to the kind of defensive gifts which were redolent of what Moyes' side have provided all season. "We can go on and win the League," Torres said last night. "And I believe I can go on and score more than I got last season." His manager is inclined to agree – on the last point, at least. "It is possible," Benitez said. "He has confidence, everything. We want to see the team winning, and if he scores 33 I will be pleased too."
The individual who left a less pleasing imprint on the game than Torres was the referee, Mike Riley, whose decision to send Tim Cahill from the field in the 79th minute – the 17th red card in 33 Merseyside derbies – was questionable. Cahill, perhaps incensed by Alvaro Arbeloa's scything tackle on him three minutes earlier, allowed his following leg to fell Alonso after a tackle, but even the Spaniard was unconvinced by Riley's decision. "Xabi said it [the challenge] could have been worse for him," Benitez said.
The six yellow cards Riley issued did not reflect a game in which tempers only periodically flared, but the one he issued to Torres, for his second piece of dissent, was fateful. It triggered a response in the 24-year-old, and within 10 minutes he had scored. An Everton defence which had looked resolute enough until then – Jagielka was a colossus throughout – then looked as if it was about to implode.
Kuyt had the ball in the net minutes after Torres's second but was adjudged to have fouled Joleon Lescott. Then Torres dispatched an angular right- foot volley, but he was adjudged to have handled the ball as he took down Andrea Dossena's cross. It denied Torres the first hat-trick in the fixture since Ian Rush's 24 years ago, as did Jagielka when, after Torres had spun past Cahill and shaped to cut inside him, the defender beat the ball away with an immaculate challenge.
No matter. The comprehensive way Liverpool were dismembering Everton made grim viewing as the visitors raced to their seventh win in nine at Goodison, and Benitez's dance across the pitch at the end – not a familiar spectacle – said everything about what he think it means.
Moyes had asked his side's fans "to be mindful that obscenities directed at opposition players can often spur them on", and none of the bile directedat Steven Gerrard last season was heard, but Liverpool chants of "going down" hurt at a ground where Everton have still not won all season. "Our start does worry me because it's the same group of players in the main that finished fifth last year, but our performances have not matched that," Moyes said.
Liverpool's threat was evident from the start as Keane, who showed good movement, and Albert Riera laid siege to the left flank. Riera eventually managed to round Tony Hibbert and cross, but Torres was not allowed to get a shot in. When Torres returned the compliment, Riera fired over.
Everton might have started as the team with less self-control – Marouane Fellaini was booked for hacking at Arbeloa after eight minutes – but they gradually halted the Liverpool rhythm and created the best opening before the break.
Mikel Arteta's 13th-minute corner somehow skidded across a packed penalty area and fell at the feet of Cahill, who characteristically ghosted in and uncharacteristically executed an air shot. Yakubu might have scored just after the break, too, if he had finished the job after drifting past Martin Skrtel instead of diving in search of a penalty. But defence was all Everton could offer. Pepe Reina did not have a shot to save.Reuse content