Towering Torres makes up for Liverpool's flaws
West Ham United 2 Liverpool 3
In early May, after Liverpool had cruised to a 3-0 victory at Upton Park, Rafa Benitez stood in a cramped corridor and expressed the hope that his club's rivals would slip up in the remaining games of the season. Then his opposite number Gianfranco Zola said how pleased he was with his boys and how they just needed some goalscoring help for Carlton Cole.
On Saturday evening both managers huddled in the same spot and expressed much the same opinions. The difference, of course, was that there are more than 30 matches left rather than a mere handful.
The evidence of the previous 90 minutes was nevertheless that each team will do well to finish as high as at the end of last season.
Liverpool managed 77 goals, 86 points and only two defeats, yet still could not overhaul Manchester United. Written off this time once they lost two of their three opening games, they are now on a roll and Benitez believes the championship chase will be a more open one. "We will see more teams losing points," he said.
The rest of his debriefing was all about Fernando Torres, head and shoulders above any other player on the pitch, which he proved by taking up just that position to power in the winning goal from Ryan Babel's perfect cross. At other times Torres kept his feet on the ground, literally and metaphorically. He did so to bamboozle James Tomkins and Robert Green in giving Liverpool the lead and later was heard to utter the phrase "working hard" three times in one interview. The Spanish intonation exactly echoed that of his manager, who earlier said of him, as if counselling a young apprentice: "If he is keen to learn, he will improve."
The prospect of further improvement is a terrifying one for defenders all over the world, including Tomkins, who said: "When he is on his game, he is unstoppable. He is clever with the runs that he makes. He is not just good technically, he is good in the air and strong. He has got all the attributes."
All this talk of the Torre-ador did, however, obscure the deficiencies in Liverpool's defence that had former occupants Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson frowning grimly on Match of the Day. Jamie Carragher, one of the most self-critical of players, will have had an uncomfortable Sunday analysing his performance alongside Martin Skrtel, who was not much better. Both received yellow cards before half-time for the fouls that led to West Ham twice pegging back Liverpool's lead.
The Italian Alessandro Diamanti scored from a miscued penalty and Cole soared for an excellent header to equalise again after Dirk Kuyt had got a big toe to Steven Gerrard's equally good header.
Unusually for a striker, Kuyt would like that one to be given to his captain. "I just touched it but if we can give it to Steve, I will be glad," he said, which will make an interesting case for the dubious goals committee.
West Ham, making their worst start since relegation six years ago, could not care who scores, for there is still insufficient back-up to Cole. Zavon Hines was lively on the left, but missed when Carragher let him through in the second minute. Diamanti briefly sparkled, as his name suggests, but faded through lack of fitness. Next up, probably in the Carling Cup this week, will be Guillermo Franco, a 32 year-old Argentine-Mexican who scored only 14 goals in 81 games for Villarreal. With no sign of a return for the desperately unfortunate Dean Ashton, Eastenders must hope for something better than last season's imports, David di Michele and Diego Tristan.
West Ham (4-2-3-1): Green; Faubert, Upson (Gabbidon, 25), Tomkins, Ilunga; Behrami (Kovac, 27), Parker; Diamanti (Dyer, 65), Noble, Hines; Cole. Substitutes not used: Kurucz (gk), Spector, Nouble, Payne.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Insua; Mascherano, Lucas; Kuyt (Babel, 59), Gerrard, Benayoun (Aurelio ,85); Torres (Riera, 89). Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Kyrgiakos, Degen, Dossena.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).
Booked: West Ham United Parker, Ilunga, Cole; Liverpool Carragher, Skrtel, Mascherano.
Man of match: Torres.
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