What's wrong with Torres?
BIRMINGHAM CITY 0
ROY HODGSON must hope that sooner or later the black cloud hanging over the head of Fernando Torres will disappear, but against Birmingham City yesterday Liverpool's centre-forward looked distinctly like a man who wished he was elsewhere.
With a nod in the direction of Alex McLeish's side, who were the better team, if this afternoon was memorable for anything then it was a turgid Liverpool performance.
Torres was not the only man in a red shirt who looked off the pace but at times it was painful how far he looked from the player who scored 33 goals in his first season at the club and has become one of the best strikers of his generation.
It was one of those days for Liverpool, one of those days when Steven Gerrard spends much of his time throwing his hands in the air and looking skywards in despair.
Afterwards Hodgson put a brave face on it. But there was no more trenchant criticism of Torres than from Jamie Redknapp, the Sky Sports pundit, who described the Liverpool striker's first half performance as "diabolical".
Redknapp, a former Liverpool captain, said: "Out there for 45 minutes he (Torres) has been terrible. He hasn't got hold of the ball, he hasn't chased, he's got frustrated, he could have been booked. He's been diabolical.
"I'm his biggest fan and I love seeing him. Of course you have to give (Roger) Johnson and (Scott) Dann credit but he's shown no appetite for the game. He's looked frustrated, sloppy, lethargic."
Torres cannot take all the responsibility for Liverpool's start to the season, but in a team that is struggling desperately for form, they need something from their famous No 9 to spark them into life.
He scored against West Bromwich Albion last month and twice for Spain against Liechtenstein in Euro 2012 qualifiers but there is still the glumness about him that accompanied his demotion to substitute for Spain at the World Cup finals.
These are early days for Hodgson and the team he is trying to build but, at Liverpool, the expectations are such that the early days do not last long.
They have one win from their first four games and the manner of their draw yesterday was the greatest cause for concern. They were flat and, for long periods, they were outplayed.
The Liverpool manager came to the defence of Torres, rejecting the criticisms of Redknapp and pleading the case that his striker was still not completely fit. Knee and groin problems slowed Torres all last season and, with the other strikers at his disposal, Hodgson has little chance but to persist with the player.
Hodgson said: "I don't share that opinion (of Redknapp). He (Torres) is working hard for the team. As we saw towards the end of the game, he's a constant thorn in the sides of defenders and I think you should give the defenders Dann and Johnson a lot of credit for making life difficult for him.
"We know that he lacks match training. He missed matches at the end of last year and he missed matches during the World Cup. But I'm not at all concerned about Fernando Torres. He will get better and better as the season goes on and I believe that, whether or not we will be discussing this is a good season or a bad season, we will be doing that in May, we won't be doing it at the beginning of September."
McLeish's team have not been beaten at St Andrew's for 17 games and they have a robustness that makes them hard to break down. It was not pretty but Birmingham's central defenders Dann and Johnson stuck close to Torres. Craig Gardner and Barry Ferguson did the same to Gerrard and their reward is a draw that takes them to fifth in the Premier League.
It was Pepe Reina who kept Liverpool in the game in the first half making three crucial saves, the third of which from Gardner's close-range shot was extraordinary. In a heartbeat, Reina got down low to his right to keep the ball out. Twice he stopped Cameron Jerome when the Liverpool defence melted away in front of him.
The chances for McLeish's side far out-numbered those for Liverpool. Dann should have done better when he headed the ball downwards from Seb Larsson's free-kick from the right on 57 minutes and it bounced up and over the bar. Jerome had another header at the back post on 70 minutes.
The Birmingham manager could justifiably say that his team were disappointed with not having won the game but that was not his overriding emotion.
"We never took our chances so that is why we did not win but I have to be thrilled with the performance and the chances we created," he said.
"You have to say that Pepe Reina was outstanding for them. They were certainly great saves.
"As for our defenders, I would like to believe that they were the reason (Torres was kept so quiet).
" Our two are difficult to play against. They keep their concentration. Liverpool had that wee bit of ascendancy in the second half, Gerrard got influential, and we kept our concentration."
For Liverpool, there were debuts for Paul Konchesky and Raul Meireles which reflects the changes that the team are adapting to under a new manager. Both of them looked reasonably solid.
It is the likes of Torres, not to mention Gerrard's increasing frustration, that are a greater cause for concern for Hodgson.
Only once did Torres really work Ben Foster with an explosive near-post shot on 63 minutes that he might have cut back to Gerrard.
It was hard to remember another decent effort from Hodgson's team who now have five points in four games and sit one place behind Bolton Wanderers in the unfamiliar position of 13th in the table for a club of such reputation.
Not since August 15 last year has Hodgson won a game away from home as a Premier League manager and the signs are that it will be on their travels this season that Liverpool will struggle. He talked up the return of Joe Cole yesterday and they are missing Dirk Kuyt long term.
But what they really need is a spark of inspiration from Torres.
Without that, and some new blood, Liverpool FC, and their supporters, face a long and cold winter.
(© Independent News Service)