The Liverpool that showed up in a 6-0 home victory over Derby was the club fans have been waiting to see—a club with both the will to dominate weaker teams and the quality to actually do it.
All credit to Derby—they didn't play too badly during the first half, and were a tad unlucky to be two goals down. But Liverpool walked all over the visitors in the second half.
Derby started the game strong, with good movement and a couple of shots on goal. It took the Reds awhile to get their passing in gear, and had their first real chance when Agger rasped a 25-yard shot that Derby keeper Stephen Bywater did well to save. Pennant, for his part, was a constant threat on the right flank, and Bywater was in action again when he saved a powerful header from Torres off a cross by the midfielder.
Derby worked hard to close down the space in front of their defenders, but committed a handful of clumsy fouls in the process. After one whistle, Alonso swerved the ball towards the goal from 35 yards out on the left—and Bywater, distracted by Kuyt running across the six-yard line, allowed the shot to nestle into the back of the net.
Pennant's pace and skill continued to torment the Derby back line after that, but Kuyt skied a number of great chances to extend Liverpool's lead. Derby's desperate efforts to hold back the tide finally collapsed in first-half injury time, when a feed from Pennant on the left side allowed Babel to side-step two defenders before finishing superbly.
The second half started no better for the visitors. Liverpool's third goal came when Mascherano dispossessed Bob Malcolm and pushed the ball towards a waiting Torres, who dribbled past three defenders before clinically slotting the ball into the bottom corner.
With Liverpool cruising, Benitez pulled Pennant, who left to a standing ovation, and replaced him with Benayoun. Unaffected by the switch, the Reds notched their fourth score at 69 minutes, with Babel crossing from the right and Alonso finishing off after Benayoun's effort had been blocked.
Voronin was the next sub on, for Babel, and he scored with virtually his first touch. A cross from Kuyt was parried into Voronin's path by Bywater, and the Ukrainian wasted no time in scoring.
It wasn't even a minute until things got worse for Derby, when Torres intercepted a poor backpass by Andy Todd, rounded the keeper, and finished off in style.
With the win, Liverpool are leading the Premiership for the first time in years, and it's a relief for Liverpool fans to see such a clinical demolition of a weaker team.
One could actually feel sorry for Derby, as it looked as though the Reds were trying to prove a point to the rest of the Premiership on Saturday—and they did a hell of a job. Although Derby don't make for the strongest opposition, every Premier League match is a possible hurdle.
Liverpool cleared this one with ease.
My Man of the Match: Jermaine Pennant