By Neil Jones at Anfield
God visited Anfield today, but where once Robbie Fowler was the sole symbol of divinity on Merseyside, there is now some serious competition. Fernando Torres is fast eclipsing the exploits of even the 'Toxteth Terror', and Liverpool fans have a new figure at whose feet they can worship.
But whilst Liverpool fans cannot get enough of their star turn, Sunderland will not want to see him again in a hurry. The Spaniard now has four goals in four appearances against the Black Cats, and his superbly-taken brace today set Liverpool on their way to an easy victory in an embarrassingly one-sided contest.
Both strikes would have made Fowler, watching from the TV studio, proud. The first, which arrived just three minutes in, was reminiscent of John Barnes in his pomp. If its timing was crucial, its execution was sublime.
Collecting the ball in the left-hand channel, Torres manoeuvred Michael Turner infield, before whipping a perfectly-arced right-foot strike around the helpless Craig Gordon and into the top left hand corner of the Kop End net. It was manna from heaven, and at the same time it undid Steve Bruce's carefully-crafted gameplan of containment.
He might have had a hat-trick before half-time, so dominant were Liverpool in the opening period. By the time Phil Dowd's whistle had sounded, the Reds had mustered 14 attempts at goal, to Sunderland's one. Torres struck the post and dragged a couple of efforts wide, and both Turner and Anton Ferdinand were placed into a seemingly permanent state of panic whenever the Spaniard approached.
He added some deserved gloss to the scoreline after the break, steering in a smart pass from Glen Johnson - who had already doubled the Reds' lead with a deflected strike - and the noise made upon his withdrawl on 78 minutes was as loud as anything at Anfield all day - except maybe one or two rather unflattering chants aimed by the Kop at a grinning Bruce.
The difference a fully-fit Torres would have made to Liverpool's season is obvious. Sunday's brace takes him to 18 league goals in just 21 appearances, and to 20 goals in all competitions. It is a quite stunning return considering the muscular injuries he has suffered, and Rafael Benitez will be hopeful that his Spanish superstar can stay fit for the next six weeks or so, as Liverpool seek to reel in Tottenham for fourth spot.
Sunderland may have offered brittle resistence - it took until stoppage time for Pepe Reina to be called into action and, ironically, that was from ex-Red Boudewijn Zenden - but Liverpool's performance today will have offered plenty of encouragement to Benitez as his side approaches the key weeks of the season.
Torres' form seems to inspire those around him, and none more so than Steven Gerrard. The skipper was deployed as a traditional central midfielder today, alongside the phenomenal Javier Mascherano, and enjoyed as productive an afternoon as he has managed all year. Maxi Rodriguez similarly sparkled in the glow of Torres' excellence, turning in his best performance in a red shirt.
Of course all is not well at Liverpool at the moment - a point exemplified by a vociferous post-match protest from around 200 supporters, aimed at co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks - and even a swaggering home success, the eighth on the spin in the league at Anfield, will not mend the problems that exist higher up the club's hierarchy. Liverpool's players warmed down with the words "Liverpool Football Club is in the wrong hands" ringing in their ears.
But on the pitch, with the Reds looking at a favourable last half-dozen fixtures, and Tottenham and Manchester City facing tough runs, Liverpool look well-placed to make a late burst for the Champions League spot. They may have been rather forlorn in defeat at Manchester United and Wigan Athletic, but there has been an undoubted upsurge in results - and performance levels - since the turn of the year.
And if they can keep Torres in this kind of form, it would take a brave men to back against them.