Sunday December 23, 2007
Paul Wilson at Anfield, The Observer
Torres torment for a sensitive Sol
Sol Campbell escaped derision from a Liverpool crowd in the same festive mood as the Portsmouth defence, though he was still given a fearful roasting by Fernando Torres. If you will pardon the expression.
Torres has acceleration and agility to burn, while milk has been known to turn faster than Campbell in his veteran years, so while asking one to mark the other was not quite a human rights issue it might have been a case for the League Against Cruel Sports.
When Torres took on the Pompey captain he generally won and before the visitors knew it they were two goals down.
It could have been worse, too. Only a timely intervention by Glen Johnson prevented Dirk Kuyt from turning in a cross from Torres after a blistering burst of speed and perfect square pass. The full-back collided with his own goalkeeper in making the block and was still off the field receiving treatment when Liverpool took the lead in the 13th minute.
Torres took on Campbell for pace and beat him hands down, and this time Sylvain Distin had to slide across to intercept the flying centre-forward. The ball only reached Harry Kewell on the left, however, and when he returned it into the middle Yossi Benayoun thumped a volley past David James from the edge of the penalty area.
Three minutes later Portsmouth were in even worse disarray, again as a result of the threat posed by Torres’ pace. When Kuyt slipped him into the danger zone Campbell did a good job of standing him up in the penalty area and getting a foot in to dispossess Torres, only to see the ball rebound off the helpless Distin and cross the goalline with James stranded to double the lead.
The next time Torres came calling, Campbell was left on his backside and Steven Gerrard might have done better than shoot wide of the target. With less than a quarter of the match gone Portsmouth must have been longing already for the sanctuary of the dressing room. It seemed as if Liverpool could score at will, and the fact that the interval arrived with no further additions to the scoresheet was mainly due to Liverpool understandably losing some of their urgency.
The home side fielded something approaching their strongest line-up, their attacking options simplified somewhat by the absence of Peter Crouch, who according to Rafael Benitez in the match programme was unlucky to be sent off against Chelsea in midweek. ‘[Jon Obi] Mikel kicked him twice and that was the reason he lost his head,’ Benitez explained. All of which makes you wonder what sort of a challenge a Liverpool player would have to put in for his manager to hold his hand up and admit that it might have warranted a red card.
Portsmouth made two changes at half time, with Kanu and Lauren coming on for John Utaka and Johnson, and began the second half determined to show the match was not over and the result by no means a foregone conclusion. First Papa Bouba Diop went close, then Kanu, then Hermann Hreidarsson, so Liverpool could not say they had not been warned when Benjani pulled a goal back in the 57th minute.
An excellent goal it was too, with Kanu picking out Benjani at the far post with a floated ball over the Liverpool defence, for the striker to bring the ball down expertly and turn past Sami Hyypia and John Arne Riise before lashing a shot beyond Jose Reina.
That not only woke up the oddly subdued travelling support, it breathed life back into the contest. Or at least it did for 10 minutes, until Portsmouth’s next mix-up at the back handed Torres a deserved goal.
Ryan Babel accepted Javier Mascherano’s pass and cut in from the right, James came off his line to cut out the danger and only succeeded in pushing the ball out to Torres, who had only a small section of the goal to aim at but was never likely to miss with a free shot from 12 yards.
Torres’ battles after that were mostly with the offside flag. He lost more than his fair share, and it is possible that his pace is just as much a challenge for assistant referees’ eyesight as it is for opponents.
In the 79th minute though, attempting to run at the Portsmouth defence with the ball at his feet, he was cleanly dispossessed by Campbell. At the end of a difficult week for the Premier League’s most sensitive soul it must have felt like a major victory. Pity Torres had to spoil it by outpacing Campbell before the end of the match to win a corner, then accepting Gerrard’s headed pass to volley in his second of the afternoon and his 13th goal of the season.
Man of the match: Fernando Torres
Scored two goals and made two others, and was visibly quicker in thought and action than anyone else on the pitch. Cannot play against Sol Campbell every week, though, and could have done with a performance like this against Manchester United last weekend.