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Reds up to third with comfortable win

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Liverpool remain unbeaten in the Premier League and moved up to third in the table, level on points with Man United and City and with a game in hand over second place Chelsea.

Sami Hyypia opened the scoring from a Steven Gerrard free kick midway through the first half, Fernando Torres added a second just before half time – again from a Gerrard assist – and Gerrard himself added the third from the penalty spot after Crouch had been tripped.

Sub Ryan Babel then kept up his impressive record of scoring after coming on, following up Dirk Kuyt’s shot across Jaaskelinen and finishing from six yards. Gerrard was again at the heart of the move.

Team News

Rafa Benitez chose an attacking line-up for the home side, brining in Riise at left back and switching Arbeloa to right back in place of Finnan. In midfield Lucas partnered Gerrard in the middle and started his second consecutive League match after impressing at Newcastle last week. Mascherano was rested on the bench with Benayoun and Kewell starting on the wings. Up front Crouch partnered Torres.

Xabi Alonso missed the opportunity to line-up against his brother Mikel, along with Agger still struggling with his metatarsal injury. The only other injuries Benitez had were Aurelio and Pennant.

For Bolton, they were without captain Kevin Nolan and on loan Liverpool player Danny Guthrie.

Match Report by Oliver Kay, The Times

If Liverpool’s supporters are smiling after a fifth consecutive victory that has helped to ease much of the tension around Anfield, here is something to make them chuckle: Manchester United passed up the chance to sign Fernando Torres in the summer because they felt that he lacked composure in front of goal. United also doubted his desire to forge a career in England after he had rejected their previous overtures to stay at Atlético Madrid. Old Trafford’s loss is proving to be Anfield’s gain.

Spending big money on a striker does not guarantee anything ‘“ the return to Anfield of El-Hadji Diouf, in Bolton Wanderers’ colours, offered a reminder of that ‘“ but after missing out on Samuel Eto’o and David Villa last summer, Liverpool have struck gold with Torres. After two crucial goals against FC Porto in the Champions League in midweek, he showed great composure again yesterday to score for the eleventh time this season as his team underlined their impressive recent form with another minor avalanche of goals to inflict Gary Megson’s first defeat in four league matches in charge of Bolton.

With Sami Hyypia, Steven Gerrard and Ryan Babel, a substitute, also on the mark, Liverpool have scored 21 goals in their past five matches in all competitions while conceding only one. It is a sequence that has been overshadowed by turmoil off the field, but with that run having seemingly persuaded the club’s American owners that they would be foolish to allow political issues to threaten Rafael BenÍtez’s position for the immediate future, there is a growing optimism within Anfield that a long-overdue title challenge is gathering momentum.

Megson, for one, will reluctantly testify to that. His Bolton team beat United nine days ago, their aggression taming the champions into submission, but a repeat of that upset never seemed in prospect here. While he could justifiably cite a penalty appeal in the tenth minute, when Kevin Davies was held by Peter Crouch, and an uncharacteristic miss from Nicolas Anelka, who shot wide of an open goal when the deficit was a single goal, the greater quality came from Liverpool, much of it from Torres.

The forward has a long way to go if he is to supplant BenÍtez ‘“ or Mikel Arteta, the Everton midfield player ‘“ as Merseyside’s favourite Spaniard, but it is the quality of his goals, as well as the quantity, that has won the devotion of the Liverpool supporters. Yesterday’s effort, in the final minute of the first half, was stunning in its execution, but it was also impressively familiar, Gerrard striking a measured pass into the channel, Torres leaving a lumbering defender for dead and almost effortlessly clipping the ball past the goalkeeper. A lack of composure? Hardly.

Lubomir Michalik, Bolton’s young Slovakia defender, will not look back fondly on his meeting with Torres, but his team were second best all over the pitch. They had no answer to the thrust and dynamism of Gerrard, who set up the first goal for Hyypia with a free kick that the defender headed home unchallenged and converted the third from the penalty spot early in the second half after Abdoulaye Meïté appeared to tug Crouch. With eight goals in his past nine matches for Liverpool, and nine in total this season, Gerrard is only two behind Torres in the scoring stakes.

As against Porto, the scoreline flattered Liverpool, with Babel coming on to score the fourth goal from close range after Jussi Jaaskelainen had spilt Dirk Kuyt’s shot with five minutes remaining, but Megson was not about to claim that Bolton had been hard done by. Asked if the result had brought his team ‘œback down to earth’ after the victory over United, he started by saying: ‘œWell, if it’s a case of . . .’ before stopping himself mid-sentence. ‘œI was going to dress it up with all that b*****ks, but we just didn’t compete well enough.’

Note Megson’s terminology. Bolton did compete, but they did not compete well. Diouf was a case in point, booked for an ugly late challenge on Álvaro Arbeloa in the eleventh minute as he strived in vain to prove a point to his former employers. Even had he scored a hat-trick, though, Diouf would never be mourned in these parts. However much he has rebuilt his career at Bolton, it is not without reason that the Senegal forward is a rarity among Liverpool’s former players in that he is jeered when he returns to Anfield.

Bolton’s best chance came and went in the 38th minute, when a misunderstanding between José Manuel Reina and Jamie Carragher ended with the defender winded and the ball at the feet of Anelka no more than 12 yards from goal. The forward, another Anfield old boy, should have scored with ease, but he shot wide of the near post. Carragher would later depart injured, but Jack Hobbs, his 19-year-old replacement, was not troubled on his Premier League debut.

BenÍtez joked afterwards that Reina, after a similar incident away to Sunderland in August, was ‘œtrying to kill’ Carragher, but the defender should be fit to face Reading on Saturday.

Beyond that, there is the critical Champions League match against Marseilles in the Stade Velodrome on December 11 and United’s visit to Anfield five days later. The latter will coincide with the arrival of Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr, the club’s owners, for those much-needed clear-the-air talks with BenÍtez. It promises to be a defining week in Liverpool’s season.

On the field, with Torres to the fore, BenÍtez’s team are firing again. If only the loose cannons in the boardroom can be kept in check, these could be exciting times for Liverpool.

Post Match Notes

The 90 foot long ‘As always we are focussing on supporting our manager’ banner got a better airing than against Porto, held up in front of the Kop prior to kick off (and featured on MoTD). Bolton, despite being half an hour down the road and having beat the Mancs last week, still couldn’t sell their small allocation.

That’s 21 goals scored and 1 against in five matches since the 0-0 draw at Blackburn at the beginning of November.

United face Fulham on Monday night and can go back ahead of the Reds.


Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise, Benayoun, Gerrard, Lucas, Kewell, Torres, Crouch
Subs: Itandje, Kuyt, Babel, Mascherano, Hobbs

Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Samuel, Meite, Michalik, Gardner, McCann, Campo, Speed, Davies, Anelka, Diouf
Subs: Al Habsi, Giannakopoulos, Wilhelmsson, Teymourian, Alonso

Referee: Steve Bennett
Attendance: 43,270

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