x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Unplayable Torres rips Hull apart

There are occasions when adjectives such as "unplayable" acquire a meaning. This was one.

LIVERPOOL // There are occasions when adjectives such as "unplayable" acquire a meaning. This was one. Fernando Torres, gliding beyond defenders, locating space where there appeared none and finishing with surgical precision, defeated Hull yesterday. His teammates contributed as many goals, but Torres' capacity to devastate has rarely been more apparent. Few cause havoc with greater elegance. This was a rout instigated by one man.

His hat-trick, following a brace against West Ham a week before, confirmed Torres is in a rich vein of form and brought Liverpool a sixth consecutive victory. In the process, they cemented Hull's position in the relegation zone. Each of Torres' trio was taken with the assurance of a man who knows he is going to score. The opener was typical Torres, featuring the ability to operate in tight confines, with a flash of skill, a dart of pace and a well-timed shimmy that have helped him forge such an enviable reputation. When Emiliano Insua and Albert Riera combined on the left flank, the latter's centre was met by a turning Torres. Evading Ibrahima Sonko and directing his shot into the far corner, the Spaniard duly made the breakthrough.

That was impressive enough. Torres' second, however, was the sort of strike that elicited gasps of admiration inside Anfield. It was executed with the nonchalance that class can afford, an unhurried Torres opting to defeat two defenders and the goalkeeper before eventually finishing. Following Yossi Benayoun's through ball, he escaped from Sonko, Boaz Myhill and Liam Cooper on a solo run of meandering menace. Scoring proved the simplest task of all.

Indeed, his third goal suggested that defeating defenders began a habit and was fast becoming an addiction. After a second perceptive pass from Benayoun, Torres' speed gave him the opportunity to shoot straight away. Instead, he veered past the hapless Sonko before placing a shot between Paul McShane's legs and beyond Myhill. Even before then, one moment had served as a microcosm of Hull's inability to cope with Torres. Displaying the sense and purpose to hold off would-be assailants, he was eventually felled, illegally, by a fourth opponent in Kevin Kilbane.

Sandwiching Torres' first two goals, Hull had struck themselves. Memories of their 2-2 draw at Anfield last season were revived, albeit briefly, when Geovanni equalised. It was another goal to illustrate Liverpool's uncertain defending. Although McShane, with a cross, and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, with a header, both played contributions for Hull, the ball came to Geovanni following Martin Skrtel's unconvincing clearance. The Brazilian is a suitably fine technician to take advantage of a half-volley inside the penalty area.

That was all that went Hull's way. Phil Brown has forged a reputation as a manager who is willing to take a risk. Giving the 18-year-old defender Cooper a league debut at Anfield was certainly a gamble. If it was a chastening affair for him, it is hard to fault the teenager: far more seasoned defenders would have struggled with Torres. The fourth goal came from Steven Gerrard, who netted with what rather appeared an over-hit cross, but was sufficient to deceive Myhill and find the top corner. Ryan Babel, whose replacement of Torres had appeared an act of mercy towards Hull, added a late brace, touching in Dirk Kuyt's cross and Riera's shot respectively.

This was the third time Liverpool have scored at least four at Anfield this season and, as Hull capitulated, it could have been considerably more. It was emphatic. Yet it took place to the now familiar backdrop of internal strife. The co-owner George Gillett's first visit of the season was overshadowed by a demonstration led by the influential Spirit of Shankly protest group and coincided with suggestions that the Saudi Prince Faisal will take a 50 per cent share in the club. Quite what a 50 per cent share in Torres would be worth now is a moot point, but it certainly wouldn't come cheap.

rjolly@thenational.ae