Priceless Torres rescues Reds
Spaniard's flash of quality drags lifeless Liverpool over the line
FOR 65 soporific minutes yesterday, the loudest cheer Anfield looked likely to generate was the one afforded before kick-off to Raul Meireles, Liverpool's most expensive signing this summer.
Only the intervention of their most important player changed that. For all the doubts over his fitness and fidelity, Fernando Torres remains the only man capable of lifting Liverpool out of the ordinary.
The Spain international may be some way short of his peak, because of the after-effects of the knee injury that plagued him last season and an extended break following the World Cup, but he proved in one perfect volley to beat West Bromwich Albion quite what he means to Liverpool.
Little wonder the club were so relieved that he decided to remain in red even after the disappointments of his last year at Anfield. Little wonder they were so relieved that Chelsea did not make them an offer they could not refuse this summer. Torres is a priceless possession.
"People like Fernando and Steven Gerrard can do things other people cannot do," said Roy Hodgson. "In the Premier League, all teams have good players that can cause problems for their opponents. Often it is a piece of magic that breaks the deadlock."
Few players do it quite so regularly as Torres. Though his last two campaigns have been interrupted by groin and then knee trouble, he has still scored more league goals than any other player since his arrival in the Premier League. This was his 41st strike in 43 Anfield appearances.
It came after more than an hour of abject toothlessness from his team-mates. When Liverpool had the ball, their play had no direction. It almost came as blessed relief that Roberto di Matteo's disciplined side deprived them of it for so long, particularly in the first half.
West Brom have clearly learned from their mauling at Stamford Bridge on the opening day. They hurried and harried throughout, the excellent Youssouf Mulumbu marshalling a midfield determined to disrupt Liverpool's rhythm. So subdued were the hosts, however, that West Brom's task did not appear especially arduous.
Meireles will have understood immediately why Hodgson moved so quickly to secure his services. Liverpool lack urgency, impetus. Too often Gerrard, way below his best, is isolated in an advanced position as attacks choke and stall 30 yards behind him. Torres spends much of his time as an observer, rather than a participant.
Both soon grew visibly frustrated with their roles. Though Torres twice might have scored in the opening 10 minutes -- shooting straight at Scott Carson and then seeing a shot blocked -- neither he nor the club captain could lift Liverpool from their torpor.
They might even have found themselves behind, had referee Lee Probert awarded West Brom a penalty for Martin Skrtel's apparent pull on Jonas Olsson as the two scuffled for a corner.
It was not until an hour had passed that a restless Kop had cause to stir themselves. West Brom failed to clear a Gerrard corner, Torres lifted the ball to the edge of the box and Skrtel fizzed a volley over.
Just when Liverpool needed a break, they got one. A moment after Gonzalo Jara, who donated his match shirt to raise funds for the 33 miners trapped in his homeland of Chile, had twice spurned opportunities to put the visitors ahead, Pepe Reina picked out Dirk Kuyt with a long throw. Liverpool sprang into life.
The Dutchman powered into the space left vacant by the wandering Chilean. He exchanged passes with Torres, the Spanish striker peeling off to the edge of the box, waiting and watching for Kuyt's return ball. He met his volley crisply, expertly. It was not the finish of a man who has not scored a competitive goal since April.
The lead should have been doubled, trebled. Torres fired straight at Carson after a beautifully arcing cross from Gerrard -- his one contribution of note -- and then saw Probert wave away a blatant penalty after a Jara handball.
Suddenly Anfield found its voice. James Morrison lunged at Torres and received a straight red card to a chorus of jeers. And then the Spaniard was removed to deafening acclaim, to be placed in his protective wrapping once more. (© Daily Telegraph, London)