Hodgson unfazed by Torres’ state of mind
AS someone who has scored in each of his last three appearances against Manchester United, the concern about Fernando Torres' form and fitness extends beyond tonight's Europa League opener against Steaua Bucharest.
Just as Alex Ferguson dramatically and ineffectually reshuffled his side before Tuesday's goalless draw with Rangers to keep his squad fresh for Liverpool's arrival at Old Trafford, so Roy Hodgson is likely to regard Steaua as a mere aperitif.
The Liverpool manager was angered by comments that Torres looked punch drunk at Birmingham last Sunday.
To Robbie Savage, commentating for BBC Radio, the Spaniard's body language suggested an “uninterested” footballer. In the Sky camp, Jamie Redknapp, a one-time Liverpool captain, described his display as “diabolical.”
Torres is unlikely to face a Steaua side that, whatever their history – Hodgson reeled off the fact that they had won 44 Romanian trophies during his press conference at Anfield – finished fourth in an indifferent league.
However, his manager pointed out that Torres was keen to play and his lacklustre display at St Andrews had as much to do with being asked to fly to Buenos Aires by the Spanish FA to take part in a friendly against Argentina than anything else.
“I think it is wrong to try to read someone's state of mind after 90 minutes of football,” Hodgson said.
“You would have to be some wonder psychologist to do that. I have never been able to watch someone play and tell you what state of mind they are in.
“Torres is a front player. They are either heroes or villains. Against West Brom, Torres was a hero. A game later and he is the villain.
“Pepe Reina was the villain against Arsenal. Against Birmingham he won us a point. Torres is in good mental shape. He'll be happy to play if I want him to play but whether I want him to play is another question.”
Hodgson said he would be repeating Ferguson's experiment of withdrawing his leading players for a European night, adding he found it strange that a manager should be criticised more for losing with a reshuffled side than with a team that he stuck with.
“It is up to us as managers to make sure decisions are not taken out of fear of what people might say,” he said. Like Ferguson, Hodgson hands a number of his squad players the chance to prove their credentials.
“What we will do is pretty much what Alex did,” said Hodgson.
“There is no point having a squad of 25, most of whom are internationals, and then trying to play the same XI. Games like this are important for me to try to get to know players better, because I am still learning about a lot of them.”
That learning curve may be an aspect of his new job that Hodgson relishes, but his need to experiment is unlikely to help Liverpool overcome a stuttering, disjointed start to the campaign.
Though Daniel Agger, likely to be restored to the team, insists the club’s players are much happier under the new regime, Hodgson admits he “does not know” when his methods will bear fruit.
“There is no answer,” he replied, when asked how long it would take to mould Liverpool in his own image, rather than Rafael Benitez’s.
“The style of play will get better. Birmingham was not one of our better games, but the style of play was not a problem against Arsenal, and that was the same. I am not unhappy with what the players have done.”
Liverpool should back themselves to progress without Torres or Steven Gerrard.
Steaua may have reached two European Cup finals but they have struggled to make any impact since the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu, a decline that has accelerated since Gigi Becali became club president.
Becali has run through 11 managers in seven years and even once appointed himself. His latest choice is Ilie Dumitrescu, once of Tottenham, who according to the president asked for one leu (around 20p) to become manager.
The details of the severance clause in his contract – something Dumitrescu is likely to require sooner rather than later – was not revealed.
LIVERPOOL (probable 4-2-3-1) – Reina; Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Agger, Konchesky; Poulsen, Meireles; Pacheco, Cole, Babel; Ngog.
STEAUA BUCHAREST (probable 4-4-2) – Tatarusanu; Emeghara, Abrudan, Geraldo, Latovlevici; Radut, Angelov, Apostol, Tanase; Stancu, Kapetanos.
REF – C Fernandez (Spain).
Liverpool v Steaua Bucharest,
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