Fernando Torres scored his third goal in two games as Liverpool crushed Bolton Wanderers 4-0 at Anfield on Sunday to climb to third place in the English Premier League.
The Spain striker scored the second of Liverpool’s goals — his 11th of the season — after Sami Hyypia had headed them in front, while a Steven Gerrard penalty and a goal from Ryan Babel completed an easy victory.
Liverpool, who have now won five in a row and scored 21 goals in the process, are six points behind leaders Arsenal, in third place, ahead on goal difference from champions Manchester United, who play Fulham at Old Trafford on Monday.
Manager Rafael Benitez was delighted with another three points to stay in touch with the leaders and said he believed his side would get stronger as the season goes on.
”We are much closer now to the top of the table than we have been in recent years and we have a much better squad,” Benitez said.
”We are scoring a lot of goals and I think we can still improve and get even better. Today [Sunday] wasn’t a fantastic performance from us but we scored four goals [and] could have had a lot more.
”We still have the likes of Xabi Alonso, Daniel Agger, Jermaine Pennant, Fabio Aurelio and Steve Finnan to come back and they are all important players for us.
”We have a lot of confidence and we need to keep our form going and see if the other teams will make mistakes and drop points.
Hyypia put Liverpool ahead after 16 minutes with a flick header from a Gerrard corner as the home side dominated possession.
Bolton should have been level eight minutes before the break when a collision between Jose Reina and Jamie Carragher left former Liverpool striker Nicolas Anelka with an open goal, but the France forward somehow missed the target.
Torres then made Bolton pay on the stroke of half-time when he latched on to a superb pass from Gerrard to lift the ball over goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Peter Crouch, who started up front alongside Torres, almost made it 3-0 just after the restart but he made amends when he won a penalty after a push by Lubomir Michalik, and Gerrard stepped up to score from the spot.
Substitute Ryan Babel then got in on the act five minutes from the end, tapping the ball into the net after Jaaskelainen could only parry a shot from Dirk Kuyt.
In Sunday’s other match, Alex McLeish’s reign as Birmingham City manager began in perfect fashion as a last-minute goal from Sebastian Larsson gave them a 3-2 win at Tottenham Hotspur.
Gary McSheffrey put Birmingham ahead on 24 minutes but two goals in five minutes from Robbie Keane, one a penalty, early in the second half, put Spurs in control.
But Cameron Jerome equalised before the match turned five minutes later when Keane was sent off for a challenge on Fabrice Muamba, though television replays suggested the decision was a touch harsh.
Both sides had chances to win it but a spectacular 90th-minute strike from Larsson sealed the win for Birmingham, lifting them up to 14th, three points clear of the relegation zone. — Sapa-dpa