Owners set sights on Torres and Reina deals
Liverpool's new owner, New England Sports Ventures (NESV), are determined to prove their ambitions match those of their most valuable assets, Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina, to keep them at Anfield.
Though NESV have held initial talks with both Spanish internationals -- as well as a number of other senior players -- to discuss both their contractual status and any issues they have with the club, they know that both goalkeeper and striker will need to see tangible evidence of change if they are to remain on Merseyside beyond next summer.
Clauses inserted into Reina's and Torres' contracts last summer would allow the former to leave should an offer of £20m arrive next year, while it is believed the latter has a gentleman's agreement that he would be permitted to depart should Liverpool remain out of the Champions League next season.
NESV are aware that both players' disenchantment stems from a year of empty vows on forthcoming investment made by Liverpool's previous hierarchy. While the consortium's principal, John W Henry, has made clear he does not intend to keep unhappy players at the club, he is determined to use the next nine months to convince them not to activate those clauses.
That will require substantial investment in the playing resources at Roy Hodgson's disposal in January -- hence the rapid hiring of Damien Comolli as director of football strategy -- while NESV's cause will be helped by the improvement in results in recent weeks. From the ignominy of sitting in the relegation zone after defeat in the Merseyside derby -- a result that seemed to condemn Hodgson to the briefest of reigns at Anfield -- Liverpool now stand just five points behind third-placed Arsenal after winning three Premier League games in a row.
"We are now moving in the right direction," said Torres after the most recent of those successes, against Chelsea. The 26-year-old is keenly aware, though, that Liverpool must maintain those standards in forthcoming games against less illustrious opponents.
"I am really happy with the victory, just like all the fans," he said. "It was a day we have to enjoy but now we have to be focused on our next game.
"We always play like that against the top teams. When we play Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea we often produce a great performance, but now we have to do the same against the teams in the middle of the table. If we do that we will be fighting for big things at the end of the season."
The first of those tests comes against Wigan at the DW Stadium tomorrow night, the stage for a 1-0 defeat in March that was arguably the most disappointing Liverpool performance in 18 months of almost ceaseless gloom. Hodgson's side will make the journey up the M6 with rather more spring in their step than they might have done, though, thanks to their rejuvenated Spanish striker.
"This is the worst time to play Liverpool," said Roberto Martinez, the Wigan manager. "On Sunday you could see the old Fernando Torres was back. That is a good sign for Liverpool, and a very bad sign for everybody else. He is part of that elite group of top strikers. There are only five or six in the world, but he is unique in the Premier League.
"Looking back at the amount of niggles and injuries he has had, as well as the fact that all the big players get to the World Cup and try and put extra energy into it, that affects the starts of the next season.
"But he is a clinical finisher and his movement is excellent. Like all the big players at Liverpool, he looks happy and like he is enjoying his football. He is a really focused boy, and if you look at how he was the youngest captain in Atletico Madrid's history, it shows how mature he is.
"When he came out in the summer and made clear he wanted to stay, it was never in doubt he'd get back to his best."
He was helped against Chelsea, of course, by Hodgson's decision to alter his system to suit the Spanish international's strengths. Raul Meireles and Maxi Rodriguez were given licence to support him from the flanks, Steven Gerrard and Lucas attacked from midfield, while Dirk Kuyt was employed as a deep-lying forward to free the striker from defensive duties.
The most significant factor, though, according to the Dutchman, was that the confidence imbued in Liverpool by their recent run of impressive results manifested itself in a high-tempo, disciplined performance which created the sort of chances Torres thrives on after weeks of famine.
"We say in Holland that one and one is two," Kuyt said. "It means that when the team plays well, the striker plays well. That is what happened with Fernando." (© Daily Telegraph, London)