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Torres key to Liverpool hopes

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Phil McNulty | 15:43 GMT, Saturday, 27 September 2008

Fernando Torres spent almost an hour of the Merseyside derby frustrated and at odds with the world - then took just three minutes to demonstrate why Liverpool's hopes of ending their long wait to land a Premier League title rest largely on his shoulders.

Torres spent most that hour complaining to referee Mike Riley about what he thought, wrongly it must be said, was heavy-handed treatment from Everton's defence.

He eventually picked up a yellow card, but finally focused his attention on being a world-class striker again to make it three straight home defeats in the league for a bitterly disappointing Everton side.

Torres made the difference to a Liverpool side that looked in another class to Everton in terms of possession and movement, but threatened to waste their quality with a lack of a cutting edge until Torres stepped in.

It also ended a six-game barren sequence for Torres, who has struggled to hit top form since Spain's success in Euro 2008.

And once he had hit the target, the Torres of old returned and he should have had a hat-trick, only for referee Mike Riley to rule that Dirk Kuyt had pushed Joleon Lescott.

It allowed Liverpool to go on and win in a canter, and while Everton will rightly claim Tim Cahill's late red card was harsh, only a fantasist would claim it made any difference to the outcome.

Everton have told hard luck stories about derby games in the past. Not here - they were well beaten.

Liverpool have not hit top gear this season, and there have been too many false starts to announce yet that this is the campaign in which they will finally seriously challenge for their first championship since 1990.

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This, however, was a ruthlessly efficient display illuminated by the brilliance of Torres in the last half-hour.

If this display is the catalyst for him to repeat his devastating form of last season, then his own confidence in Liverpool's title aspirations might be justified.

He believes if Liverpool are around the top of the table in January or February they can go on to win the league - but talk is cheap and so often their hopes have fizzled out in the face of the superiority of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

Liverpool were highly impressive, with Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso ruling midfield, despite Everton boss David Moyes pushing Phil Neville into midfield in a vain attempt to reduce their influence.

Torres was helped by signs that Robbie Keane is sparking into life, creating the opening for his strike partner that finally turned Liverpool's dominance of possession and territory into goals.

And the most telling statistic of all - hardly designed to lighten the mood of Everton's increasingly despondent fans - is that Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina did not have to make a save all afternoon.

It was a realistic indicator of the difference between the sides, a sign of Liverpool's superiority and Everton's lack of guile and creation.

These are worrying times for Everton manager Moyes and his team. Three defeats in three home games is no harsh reflection on how they have performed.

Everton look some distance from the side that finished fifth last season, and too often their most potent weapon, Yakubu, was feeding off the scraps of a series of hopeful long balls punted in his general direction.

Moyes needs a result desperately in the Uefa Cup tie against Standard Liege next Thursday, but the brutal truth is that they have no chance of getting the victory they are likely to need unless they raise their performance level significantly.

There is a lack of inspiration on and off the pitch at the moment, with Moyes and Everton both needing a spark to ignite them. Both team and manager look down on their luck and that defeatist body language needs to change and fast.

Liverpool have that spark in the world-class Torres, and if he maintains the standards he set in the last 30 minutes at Goodison Park, the Anfield title flame may just keep burning.

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