Liverpool 6, Derby County 0: Pennant at home in foreign legion

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Either Rafa Benitez has spotted something that has slipped the attention of the wider football community or he has decided it is time he joined in with the mind games that come with managing at the top of the Premier League.

Asked whether there were any weaknesses in his side's demolition of Derby County, the Liverpool manager produced a pocketful of scribblings and waved them with a flourish.

The broad smile suggested there are weaknesses and weaknesses – and that they had been far outweighed by the brilliance punctuating the club's biggest home league victory since January 1999.

But if there is any way in which he genuinely thinks his team can better the performance that swept them to the top of the table for the first time in five years, it is ominous for Chelsea, Manchester United and anyone else jousting for the title, as Liverpool now surely are.

"You always know you can do better," Benitez said. "We missed some chances in the first half and can improve. You'll see many teams coming and playing like Derby, and we need to know how to be more patient, to attack and break them down, and keep the tempo high.

"You analyse the positives but it's best to analyse the problems and say: 'OK, next time we must be careful because it could be 3-1, not 6-0.'"

Appraisal of Liverpool's prospects has to be balanced against both the newness of the season and the ineptitude of the opposition. However, the belief that they now have two quality players for every position was unshaken on an afternoon which ended with a vision of an all-foreign line-up in the mould of Arsène Wenger's Arsenal.

In the continued absence of the injured Steve Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, Liverpool had only Steve Finnan from the home islands on the pitch as they extended their lead from three to six in 10 devastating second-half minutes.

In that time, Xabi Alonso added to his fortunate ice-breaking free-kick, Andriy Voronin netted his first goal at Anfield and Fernando Torres, whose smouldering explosiveness is the biggest draw-card of all, confirmed Derby's reduction to gibbering wrecks with his second.

The admiration does not end there. Daniel Agger has a Hansen-like regalness at the back, Alvaro Arbeloa is an incisive supplementary attacker from full-back, Javier Mascherano is all economy and ruthless efficiency, and the maturely-taken second goal underlines Ryan Babel as an emerging star.

Among the talent from round the globe, though, no-one shone brighter than Jermaine Pennant. Used initially on the right then mainly on the left, the 24-year-old East Midlander tore away at Derby and said of the competition for places: "When you have someone on your heels, you know you can't be sloppy and always have to be on your game."

He was that, and much more, in a display that provided food for thought ahead of England's Euro 2008 qualifying double-header. Has a direct, in-form winger sneaked under Steve McClaren's radar at a crucial time?

It all added up to a massive endorsement of the Benitez revolution in a week in which he suffered the shock departure of his long-time assistant Pako Ayestaran – a matter that must seem trivial to the beleaguered Billy Davies.

This was Derby's fifth successive defeat, complete with some grotesque defending, and the manager admitted: "We're coming here as the primary school-kid going to secondary school, looking about the place, standing back and admiring. We have to wake up and smell the flowers."

Comments