Fernando Torres put Liverpool in pole position to claim fourth spot in the Premiership and a place in next season’s Champions League by scoring the only goal in the 207th Merseyside derby against Everton to seal a 1-0 win at Anfield on Sunday.
Liverpool, who face Arsenal in the first-leg of their Champions League quarter-final at the Emirates on Wednesday, rarely looked in danger of conceding the points after Torres had put Rafa Benitez’s team ahead on seven minutes.
Having slumped so miserably to defeat against Manchester United at Old Trafford last Sunday, Liverpool were in danger of being labelled a team that buckles under the pressure against the big boys in the Premiership.
But the crunch encounters come thick and fast for Benitez’s team this month. United last week, Everton on Sunday and three huge games against Arsenal to come over the next ten days that will make or break Liverpool’s season, so this was the perfect opportunity to prove their mettle when the going gets tough.
The home side were certainly helped by David Moyes’s team selection. The Everton manager was without broken foot victim Tim Cahill and with strikers Andy Johnson, Victor Anichebe and James Vaughan all ruled out, his attacking options were limited to Nigerian forward Yakubu.
So Everton’s ambitions were hampered by their lack of depth and Liverpool, with Steven Gerrard and Torres once again in tandem, proved too strong for their neighbours virtually from the first kick.
The game was only seven minutes old when Torres made the breakthrough for Liverpool following a piece of suicidal defending from Yakubu.
The £11,25-million forward failed to clear the ball on the edge of his own penalty area and he was dispossessed by Xabi Alonso, with Dirk Kuyt picking up the loose ball 20 yards out.
Kuyt cleverly picked out Torres lurking on the edge of the box and the Spanish forward was never going to waste his opportunity and he beat goalkeeper Tim Howard with a right-foot strike into the far corner to claim his 28th goal of the season.
With so few options up-front, Everton now had an even bigger mountain to climb and Liverpool were in no mood to make life easy for Moyes’s team and the red tide continued to flow forward.
Gerrard sent a free-kick narrowly wide from 20 yards and defender Tony Hibbert was forced into a brave block to deny Kuyt from close range. Ryan Babel then wasted a golden opportunity from six yards before Gerrard sent a 30-yard volley crashing against the post.
Having been so poor in the first-half, Everton attempted to claw themselves level after the break and Leon Osman was given an advanced role to support Yakubu.
And the midfielder almost netted an equaliser on 59 minutes when his near post header from Mikel Arteta’s free-kick flashed narrowly wide of the near post.
But while Moyes’s players struggled to carve out clear goalscoring chances, their share of possession in the second-half gave them hope of salvaging something from the game.
Yet despite a late surge, Everton could not find the breakthrough and Liverpool held on for a victory that puts them well-clear in the race for fourth spot. – AFP