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Liverpool too slick for Derby County

Liverpool too slick for Derby County

By David Miller
Last Updated: 1:56am BST 03/09/2007

Liverpool (2) 6 Derby County (0) 0

Should I write about fiction or fact? About a supposedly prestigious league which, in truth, is little more than the commercial means through which four big clubs gain qualification for Europe's big-money event, or about the honest efforts, probably doomed in Derby's case, of the rest to survive?

Bravo Liverpool? Excuse me, but the measure of greatness in any sport is governed by the quality of the losers. At Anfield, a bunch of millionaire thoroughbreds trashed a willing collection of dray horses. They could have scored 10, so inept was Derby's ultimate disintegration.

Liverpool too slick for Derby County
High flyer: Fernando Torres celebrates his first of two goals

Current affection among neutrals for Liverpool - themselves so dominant in the Seventies and Eighties - is due to the prospect of an alternative to the duel between Chelsea and Manchester United. Yet when Rafa Benitez can spend three times as much on a single player, Fernando Torres, as Billy Davies can afford on Derby's entire squad, they jolly well ought to win.

Here was an entertaining afternoon, exhibiting the fine skills of Torres, Dirk Kuyt, Xabi Alonso, Ryan Babel, Javier Mascherano, Andrei Voronin and Momo Sissoko, which carried Liverpool to the top of the Premier League for the first time in five years.

The truly great club matches occur when one gifted team encounter, and rise above, another: Nottingham Forest v Liverpool in the Seventies, Spurs v Burnley in the Sixties, West Bromwich v Forest in the Fifties. On Saturday, there was only one possible outcome once the first goal had been scored a shade fortunately by Alonso. My heart went out to Derby, whose spirit makes it possible that there should still be the semblance of a proper league competition even though they face being put in the stocks almost every weekend.

At least their buoyant supporters retained a sense of humour. "We want one," they chanted, when Craig Fagan, who had fruitlessly run his legs off all afternoon, missed from four yards in the 82nd minute. "Bring on United," Derby's contingent then bellowed, in mock challenge to the champions.

Davies, who had five players out injured, remained defiant afterwards. "We're in this together, as winners or losers," he said. "The second goal just on half-time killed us mentally and the second-half goals were very disappointing. One or two were freezing, not brave enough, standing back and admiring. The play-offs shortened our preparation time, and it takes 10 games or so to learn in the Premiership.''

For 20 minutes it was a match. Of a sort. Derby, with a 4-1-4-1 formation, were pulling 10 men behind the ball, giving Alonso and Mascherano no avenue through which to thread their passes, obliging not only Torres and Kuyt but Jermaine Pennant and Babel on the flanks to play with their back to goal.

At this stage there was little co-ordination between Torres and Kuyt, however exciting they were individually.Benitez talked afterwards about the need to juggle four strikers - Voronin and Peter Crouch are the other two - and playing the combination best suited to beating the opposition. Yet this must inevitably jeopardise fluency.

So long as Derby's tenacious midfield held firm, they had a remote chance. When Pennant switched wings and was fouled twice in quick succession by rustic full-back Tyrone Mears and Alonso's 35-yard free-kick swirled over defence and goalkeeper into the net, they had none.

Now came the avalanche, with Babel beautifully side-stepping two lunging defenders to whip home the second and Torres (2), Alonso and Voronin completing the rout.

Steven Gerrard watched from the stands as he continued his recovery from a broken toe. "We didn't want to take the risk - and it should be the same with the England national team,'' said his Benitez. ''The doctors should decide whether he ought to be risked."

Man of the match

Fernando Torres (Liverpool)

  • Two goals
  • Had three shots on target; a match high
  • Won four free-kicks
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