Liverpool 4 – 1 Portsmouth

Aquilani scored his first goal for Liverpool
Aquilani capped a fine display with his first Liverpool goal

By John Sinnott

Liverpool thumped struggling Portsmouth to stay in touch with the teams chasing fourth place in the Premier League.

Three goals in six first-half minutes virtually ended the game as a contest, with Fernando Torres slotting home the opener after Jamie Ashdown’s mistake.

Ryan Babel toe-poked home the second, with Alberto Aquilani sweeping in the third for his first Liverpool goal.

Ashdown kept the score down after the break, before Torres netted again, with Nadir Belhadj tapping in for Pompey.

The win moved Liverpool into fifth on 51 points from 30 games, a point behind Tottenham, who have played a game less than Rafa Benitez’s side.

Manchester City are in sixth on 50 points having played two games less than Liverpool, with Aston Villa on 46 points from 27 games.

This was one of Liverpool’s more fluid performances in a desperately disappointing season, with Aquilani playing a pivotal role in only his fifth start of the league campaign.

The former Roma midfielder did not make his debut until the end of October because of injury and has struggled to establish himself in the first team with Benitez seemingly reluctant to trust his big-money signing.

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But Aquilani looked to have recovered some of the swagger that persuaded Liverpool to pay Roma £20m to bring him to Anfield in the summer, linking up the midfield and attack with some slick movement and passing – and a well-taken goal.

Early in the second half Aquilani was at the fulcrum of two sweeping Liverpool moves that ended with Ashdown denying Gerrard and then tipping over Babel’s shot.

Bottom-of the-table Portsmouth have won just five games this season – one of those victories coming against Liverpool at Fratton Park – and despite making a positive start, Avram Grant’s side all but waved the white flag once Torres put the home side ahead.

Portsmouth keeper Ashdown was playing for only the fourth time of the season and he was seriously at fault for the first goal.

Gerrard chased down Ricardo Rocha’s pass to Ashdown and managed to block the Pompey keeper’s clearance with the ball ricocheting to Maxi Rodriguez.

The Argentine quickly moved the ball across goal to Torres, who had the simplest job in sidefooting home.

That goal came on 26 minutes and by the 32nd minute Liverpool were 3-0 up.

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres
Torres was at his clinical best at Anfield

Torres bamboozled former Liverpool defender Steve Finnan before teeing up Babel, who steered the ball into the corner of the net.

The Spaniard was also involved in Liverpool’s third, combining with Gerrard to create space for Aquilani to sweep the ball past Ashdown.

Liverpool were rampant with Torres tormenting Finnan again before curling the ball against the post.

Chances were few and far between for Portsmouth, though Frederic Piquionne was a willing runner in attack, while Michael Brown drew a fine save from Pepe Reina early in the second half.

With Liverpool in total control Rafa Benitez withdrew Glen Johnson and Gerrard, who came off after a spat with Brown.

The Portsmouth midfielder was furious after the Liverpool midfielder’s appeared to hit him on the back of the head with his forearm as the two players were running at full pelt.

On 77 minutes Torres bagged his second, slamming the ball into the corner of net as Rocha and Finnan failed to close the Spaniard down.

In the game’s closing stages Piquionne cut the ball for Belhadj to score for Portsmouth.

Liverpool will hope to replicate Monday’s goal glut in Thursday’s Europa second leg tie with Lille as they seek to reach the competition’s quarter-finals, while they are likely to face a stiffer challenge than that offered by Pompey when they face Manchester United in their next Premier League game on Sunday.

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