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Lethal Torres has Liverpool firing again

LIVERPOOL (3) vs SUNDERLAND (0)

LIVERPOOL manager Rafael Benitez revelled in a vindication of his tactics after seeing his team reignite their charge for a Champions League spot with a devastating attacking display.

Striker Fernando Torres, whose return to fitness could yet prove a major factor in deciding who finishes in the much-coveted fourth place, struck twice to take his tally to seven in four games.

Full-back Glen Johnson also registered with a deflected strike as Liverpool climbed to fifth in the Premier League – four points behind Tottenham but having played a game more. The home side could have scored several more, but Benitez was content enough to bounce back from last week’s defeat at leaders Manchester United.

“Always you try to do your best and play a bit better,” he said. “But today we started with a really high tempo, passing the ball well and scoring an early goal always helps.

“With the same tactics we scored more goals than anyone in the Premier League last year and more goals than anyone in England two years ago. It is a question sometimes of accuracy, pass completion or just a little bit of luck.”

Sunderland, meanwhile, succumbed to their 11th away Premier League defeat of the season – the worst record outside the bottom three. Steve Bruce’s men were on the back foot instantly, and behind in the third minute, when Torres cut in from the left flank and curled an exquisite shot into the far top corner.

Half an hour later Liverpool doubled their lead when Johnson’s shot took a wicked deflection off Michael Turner and flew past Craig Gordon.

Despite being utterly overwhelmed, Sunderland succeeded in keeping the scoreline stable until the 60th minute, when Johnson turned provider. The England right-back looked set to shoot but teed up Torres instead and the Spain star calmly beat Gordon.

VITAL SIGNS | HOW THE RACE FOR FOURTH IS SHAPING UP
Tottenham A run of six league wins has lifted hopes of a first ever Champions League place but successive games with the top three loom later this month.

Remaining fixtures: 3 Apr Sunderland (A); 14 Apr Arsenal (H); 17 Apr Chelsea (H); 24 Apr Man Utd (A); 1 May Bolton (H); 5 May Man City (A); 9 May Burnley (A)

Liverpool Four points behind Spurs and having played an extra game does not bode well, but look a new team with with Torres back to his irrepressible best.

Remaining fixtures: 4 Apr Birmingham (A); 11 Apr Fulham (H); 19 Apr West Ham (H); 24 Apr Burnley (A); 1 May Chelsea (H); 9 May Hull (A)

Man City Games in hand are City’s trump card but inconsistency dogs them. Visits from Spurs and Villa could be decisive.

Remaining fixtures: 29 Mar Wigan (H); 3 Apr Burnley (A); 11 Apr Birmingham (H); 17 Apr Man Utd (H); 24 Apr Arsenal (A); 1 May Aston Villa (H); 5 May Tottenham (H); 9 May West Ham (A)

Aston Villa Confidence is shot after the massacre at Chelsea and fourth place now looks a distant hope. Martin O’Neill may decide to prioritise FA Cup run.

Remaining fixtures: 3 Apr Bolton (A); 14 Apr Everton (H); 18 Apr Portsmouth (A); 21 Apr Hull (A) 25 Apr Birmingham (H); 1 May Man City (A); 9 May Blackburn (H)

Everton Would need a miracle and are some way short of miraculous form.

Remaining fixtures: 4 Apr West Ham (H); 14 Apr Aston Villa (A); 17 Apr Blackburn (A); 24 Apr Fulham (H); 1 May Stoke (A); 9 May Portsmouth (H)