Torres transforms Reds on afternoon to remember

Liverpool 4 Blackburn Rovers 0
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The Independent Football

No doubt Federico Macheda took the edge off it in the evening but Rafael Benitez had two words to describe his day. "Almost perfect," the Liverpool manager said, beaming in anticipation of things to come.

You could see why. A minute's silence to mark the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster had been immaculately observed, his team had successfully avoided the pitfalls such emotional occasions can bring and the goal difference had been significantly improved. To make life sweeter, he had been able to give Steven Gerrard a day off.

Gerrard, who is nursing an injury to an adductor muscle that will make playing two games a week unlikely for the rest of this season, sat on the bench as an insurance policy that never looked likely to be called upon.

The captain watched a side whose form is such that last Wednesday's defeat by Chelsea can be regarded as an aberration from the norm. In their last five Premier League games, they have scored 16 times and in this match they could easily have edged that total to 20. At times this season, Liverpool were the ugly sister among the Cinderellas of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal; now they are the easiest "big four" side on the eye.

Admittedly, a team of gorgons would have looked attractive in the company Liverpool kept on Saturday because Blackburn Rovers were hopeless. "Inept" was the word their manager, Sam Allardyce, used, and several more, no doubt, came to mind in the privacy of the dressing room, but once Fernando Torres (right) scored with a glorious half-volley in the fifth minute the contest was over. At times Liverpool approached the sublime.

Torres got a second, Daniel Agger and David Ngog gave the scoreline a proportionate look late on and Jamie Carragher, captain for the day in Gerrard's absence, was fully aware of the message that was sending to title rivals. "All we can do is keep applying the pressure and see what happens. At the moment all the teams around Liverpool are having problems locating weaknesses," Carragher said.

"It could have been better, we could have scored more goals," Benitez said, brandishing his manager's nit-picker, "but if you had said to me before the game '4-0' I'd have been really pleased. It was a perfect response after the defeat to Chelsea, so I'm very positive."

Which was the opposite of Allardyce, who had based his tactics on those employed by Chelsea at Anfield last week only to be confounded by his players' inability to back up the emergency striker Chris Samba.

The 6ft 5in centre-back posed inevitable questions but as none of his colleagues were inclined to chase the knock-downs Liverpool had the answers. "When they don't even try to implement the game plan it makes me angry," he said. "Chris Samba created problems, but where Chelsea capitalised we didn't get anywhere near it. Liverpool kept winning the ball and attacked us again and again."

His one consolation was that Liverpool's dominance gave his goalkeeper Paul Robinson an opportunity to excel. "Paul made some unbelievable saves but the disappointing thing is that those will be wasted. He shouldn't be making saves to keep the score down but to help us win or draw a game. He's in terrific form, looking better and better, and I'm really pleased with his progress since I've been here."

On Robinson's England prospects, Allardyce added: "I'm sure the scouts are watching him He is now consistently getting all of his game. "He's coming for crosses, his distribution is first-class and, most importantly, when shots are coming at him he's there to stop them. I'm really disappointed for him because he doesn't deserve to have four goals against him."

All this practice for Robinson will please Benitez, whose side need to score at least three goals at Stamford Bridge tomorrow in their champions League quarter-final second leg. Much will depend on Torres, whose injuries earlier this season might yet prove to have been the deciding factor in Liverpool's title challenge. A fit Torres, Benitez agreed, might have allowed Liverpool to establish an uncatchable lead. "We have had one or two draws and if we had won them there would have been a massive difference," he said.

Goals: Torres (5) 1-0; Torres (33) 2-0, Agger (83) 3-0, Ngog (90) 4-0.

Liverpool (4-3-3): Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Insua; Riera, Mascherano, Alonso (Lucas, 87); Benayoun, Torres (El Zhar, 74), Kuyt (Ngog, 85). Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Dossena, Gerrard, Skrtel.

Blackburn Rovers (4-1-4-1): Robinson; Andrews, Ooijer, Nelsen, Givet; Mokoena (Doran, h-t); Treacy, Dunn (Villanueva, 60), Tugay (Grella, 67), Warnock; Samba. Substitutes not used: Bunn (gk), Khizanishvili, Olsson, McCarthy.

Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Liverpool Agger, Alonso; Blackburn Andrews.

Man of the match: Torres.

Attendance: 43,466.