Top of the Premier League and just ahead of Everton too. In football terms at least, the happy times are back on Merseyside. Even taking into accountthe poverty of Derby County, Liverpool were in glorious, free-wheeling, free-scoring form and from their joyous reaction, the Kop clearly senses that this might just, at last, be their season.
Unbeaten in the League and Europe, Liverpool ran away with this one once Derby's strategy to stifle the midfield was picked apart. Even with Steven Gerrard absent injured Liverpool ran the show with ease, Dirk Kuyt dropping deep to adopt the Gerrard-feeding role for the jet-heeled Fernando Torres.
After the four goals against Toulouse it had been, the manager, Rafael Benitez smiled, "not a bad week". Even the absence of Gerrard and the impending departure of Benitez's long-time assistant, Paco Ayesteran, could not impinge on a day like this.
As for England's declared intention to call on Gerrard for Saturday's Euro 2008 qualifier against Israel, Benitez observed: "The England team doctor will be in contact [with Gerrard] and then they will decide whether or not he should play. We don't want to take any risk with him, and they must not take any risk."
Risk is the word more readily associated with Derby at the moment, a serious risk of prompt return to the Championship from whence they so recently came. To the raucous delight of their large following, Derby stayed afloat for 25 minutes until they were undone by the switchof wings between Jermaine Pennant and Ryan Babel.
Pennant on the left was far too much for the lumbering Tyrone Mears to handle, and two fouls in quick succession provoked a lecture from the referee, Alan Wiley. Worse for Derby, it led to the opening goal from the second free-kick, a 35-yarder from Xabi Alonso which sailed directly into the net, the Derby goalkeeper, Stephen Bywater, probably being distracted by Kuyt's late, narrow failure to make a connection with his head. A fusillade of Liverpool shots, mainly from distance, kept Bywater twitching but he was beaten in the very last seconds of the half by a beautifully constructed goal.
Daniel Agger began it with a fine pass inside Mears for Alvaro Arbeloa to run on to. He pulled back to Babel, who sent the inrushing Claude Davis and Andy Griffin the wrong way in unison with a shrug of the hips before taking a couple of strides and hammering home.
Derby appeared still in shock from that one, nearly conceding again in the opening minute of the second half and being saved only by Alonso scooping over from close in.
That the miss would not be vital was rapidly evident, since Derby were not learning from their misfortunes. Robert Malcolm was punished for dwelling overlong on the ball, losing possession to a sliding tackle from Javier Mascherano, who sent Torres through to knock in a left-footed cross-shot. The wretched Malcolm was replaced immediately. Off came Pennant on the hour to a standing ovation, to be replaced by Yossi Benayoun. Within a few minutes the Israeli was at the heart of the fourth goal.
Though his shot was blocked by a fine Andy Todd interception it was typical of Derby'sluck these days that the ball rebounded straight to Alonso, who shot low through a crowd in the penalty area. Cue anothersubstitution and another goal. On came Andriy Voronin for Babel, and in four minutes he was celebrating. Torres did excellently to regain possession out on the left and fed Kuyt for a shot which Bywater beat out, but only for the eager Voronin to bundle the ball back past him.
Now Derby were in complete disintegration, and straight from the restart Torres was allowed to canter through almost at leisure to diddle Bywater's attempt at a block and side-foot his second goal of an excellent day for him. Still the Derby fans somehow stayed buoyant. "Bring on United," they chorused. Actually, it's Arsenal in the next away game.Reuse content