LIVERPOOL, August 19 – Fernando Torres stole the show as Liverpool got their season up and running with a 4-0 victory over Stoke at Anfield on Wednesday.Having lost their opening game at Tottenham 2-1, Rafael Benitez’s side were under pressure to overcome a team they twice failed to beat last season.
Spain international Torres gave his side the perfect start by notching his first goal of the campaign in the fourth minute before Glen Johnson marked his home debut by making it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time.
Holland international Dirk Kuyt increased Liverpool’s lead in the 78th minute and David Ngog put the seal on an impressive display in stoppage time.
Liverpool could not score against Stoke in 180 minutes of action last season, but it took just four minutes to unlock the Potters defence this time.
Benitez’s side did not lose a game when Steven Gerrard and Torres started together last season. The trouble was the pair did not appear in the same line up often enough due to injury.
They combined to unlock the visitors defence as Liverpool responded to Benitez’s demands for a much improved performance following the disappointing setback at Tottenham.
Torres, scorer of 14 Premier League goals last term, was afforded far too much space inside the Stoke penalty area and tucked Gerrard’s bobbling low cross beyond keeper Thomas Sorensen.
Stoke have not won at Anfield for 50 years yet they must fancied their chances of putting the record straight when they saw the Liverpool teamsheet.
With Daniel Agger absent due to a back problem, Benitez gave 18-year-old Daniel Ayala his senior debut alongside Jamie Carragher at the heart of the defence after Martin Skrtel failed to recover from a cracked jaw he suffered at Tottenham.
Yet the 6ft 3in Spanish teenager, a former Seville youth player, did not let his side down as he produced a mature performance which will have encouraged his manager.
What will not have pleased Benitez was the way his side struggled to kill off the contest despite creating a string of chances.
Emiliano Insua spurned a glorious chance to double the lead in the 22nd minute, the unmarked Argentina defender wastefully firing into the side netting following Torres’s powerful run and cross.
Torres was by far the most threatening player on the pitch. Commitments with Spain in the Confederations Cup meant he was playing up to the end of June yet he looked anything but jaded as he caused the Potters defence constant problems.
Another powerful run at the end of the first half by Torres resulted in a corner from which his side doubled the lead.
Gerrard’s inswinging kick was met by the unmarked Kuyt and although his header was blocked on the line by James Beattie, Johnson was well positioned to smash home from inside the six-yard area.
Despite their high-tempo end to the half, Liverpool were guilty of some slack defending at the start of the second half.
Jose Riena, who had been virtually redundant in the opening 45 minutes, produced a flying save to deny Rory Delap’s powerfully struck effort in the 48th minute.
Then Johnson came to his side’s rescue when he hacked a dangerous cross away as Stoke players lined up to pounce.
Johnson was proving value for money and was unfortunate not to score a second goal on the hour mark, Sorensen just doing enough to keep out his low effort.
Liverpool’s night was complete when Kuyt scored from close range after good work by the industrious Gerrard beofre substitute Ngog made it 4-0 with virtually the last kick.