Steve Bruce's big fat head (reminds me of a song somehow) was severly deflated yesterday after his Sunderland side were thrashed 3-0 by Rafa's Reds. As Bill Shankly would have said, "Sunderland were lucky to get nil." Sunderland's poor showing must not take credit away from Liverpool, who played some sensational, free-flowing attack minded football, which led to a whole host of chances being created, of which three were converted.
Maxi Rodriguez and Fernando Torres were Liverpool's star performers, as they terrorised Sunderland's backline. Fernando Torres scored two world class goals, to take him to 20 goals in 29 appearances. It is an amazing strike rate that justifies his tag as one of the best strikers in the world. The most astounding thing is that he has been able to recover from long term injury so quickly, scoring 7 times in the Reds last 4 games. Without the Spaniard, Liverpool look very ordinary, a bit like Manchester United without a certain Scouser.
Maxi Rodrriguez was central to most of our attacks, and linked up with Steven Gerrard well throughout. Considering he was a free signing, Maxi has settled down quickly to life in the Premier League, and has proven his worth to the side with some inspirational displays, especially at Anfield. He is yet another example of Benitez's astute work in the transfer market.
Liverpool started the game on the front foot, going close after only 1 minute. Gerrard's free kick from the right was flicked on by the head of Dirk Kuyt. The ball fell to the feet of Daniel Agger at the backpost, who forced Craig Gordon into a fantastic save as he tipped Agger's effort onto the crossbar. It was a great strike from the Dane, and an equally impressive save.
Liverpool took the lead after only 3 minutes, when Fernando Torres scored perhaps the best goal I have ever witnessed. It was simply stunning, and deserving of the Goal of the Season award. Torres received the ball on the left wing, and ran at Michael Turner, performing a few step-overs in the process. He then squeezed past two Sunderland players before curling the ball into the top right corner from the left hand edge of the box. Gordon had no chance as it curled over his head and into the net. It was a fantastic effort from the Spanish striker, and one for the Kop to savour.
Soon after Torres nearly doubled the scoreline. Gerrard linked up well with Maxi Rodriguez, playing a 1-2 with the Spanish winger which led to our skipper having possession on the by-line. Gerrard pulled the ball back to Torres, who's firm shot went just wide of the post from 6 yards out.
Maxi and Stevie linked up in an almost identical fashion minutes later. Gerrard dinked down to head the ball to the feet of Maxi, who then flicked the ball back into the path of Gerrard. Stevie stormed onto the flick on, before striking the ball just wide of the far post. However, his shot had a slight deflection off Michael Turner, so a corner was awarded. From the left corner flag, Gerrard whipped an inviting ball into the 6 yard box. The ball hit Ryan Babel, who was standing next to the goalkeeper only 2 yards out, before travelling to the far post where it was met by Agger. Agger disappointingly dragged his shot wide of goal from only a few yards out.
After that, Gerrard took another corner, this time from the right. His wonderful centre was met at the front post by Maxi, who's flicked header was superbly stopped by an on form Craig Gordon, who managed to tip the ball just over the bar.
Liverpool had dominated the game up to this point, creating numerous opportunities which, if they had all been converted, could have seen the Reds leading by a cricket score after only 20 minutes.
Glen Johnson has been a revelation this season, with his roaming runs from right back adding another dimension to our attacking play, and the England international proved his worth to the team yesterday, as he scored the crucial second goal that allowed us to relax and play a thoroughly entertaining, expansive style of football.
Once again, the move started with a corner from Steven Gerrard. This time, Darren Bent managed to head clear to the edge of the box, however it only found Glen Johnson. Johnson controlled the ball superbly, before turning onto his left foot and smashing the ball into the back of the net from all of 20 yards. His stike took a slight deflection off a Sunderland player, however it was still a fantastic goal from Johnson.
The game was now won, and it was only a case of how many goals we would score. 5 minutes before half time Torres nearly made it 3 for Liverpool. It all started when Kuyt's blocked shot went out to Macherano on the edge of the box. The Argentina captain squared the ball to his fellow Argentine, Emiliano Insua, who had a better game yesterday, largely due to the fact that he had nothing to do defensively.
Insua's cross into the box found Dirk Kuyt at the back post. The Dutchman tried to find Babel with a pass, however, unfortunately Babel miskicked when in the perfect position. The ball rolled through to Torres. His first effort cannoned off the foot of the post and back out to him, however Torres snatched at his second attempt and placed the ball wide of goal.
Liverpool came out for the second half looking to score as many goals as possible, in order to improve our goal difference. The thrird goal duly came on the hour, as Torres scored yet again to seal a comprehensive victory. Gerrard, Torres and Maxi (what a surprise) combined well to set up Babel on the left wing.
Unfortunately, Babel was tackled and the ball went out for a throw in. The ball was thrown to Kuyt, who then laid the ball back to Babel. The Dutchman made up for his earlier error, as he sent a fantastic cross to Maxi Rodriguez on the edge of the penalty area. Maxi headed the ball back to Glen Johnson, who disguised his pass to Torres exquisitly. Torres' finish was equally as elegant, as he waited for Turner to slide out of the way, allowing the top striker space to pass the ball into the back of the net.
By this point, the Reds had begun to take their foot off the gas, as the game was won. It was a little disappointing to see the lads sit back a bit, as, if they had had the desire we could quite easily have smashed them for 7 like Chelski had smashed Aston Villa a day earlier.
Rafa was afforded the luxury of being able to rest both Gerrard and Torres, as they were both replaced before the final whistle. Steve Bruce introduced Bolo Zenden with 13 minutes left, and the former Red received a standing ovation from the Reds supporters. Zenden had the away sides only chance with minutes remaining, as his fierce strike from 20 yards out forced Reina into a wonderful save at full stretch. It was a tremendous stop from Reina, as, yet again, he managed to produce a fine save despite being a spectator for 90 minutes.
Overall, there was little to moan about as Liverpool put in the sort of performance that would grace any title winning side. Unfortunately, for the majority of the season, Liverpool have failed to play to anywhere near the sort of level we witnessed yesterday, leaving us lagging behind in the race for fourth, rather than leading the way in the title race.
Liverpool now travel to the Stadium of Light to face Benfica in the first leg our of quarterfinal tie in the Europa League, full of confidence after 3 goals, 3 points and a magnificent display saw the Reds send out a firm message to Spurs, Villa and City. We will not give up, and we will not be beaten.