Reds' woes worsened by injury crisis
FERNANDO Torres has warned Liverpool's owners that they must invest in quality players if the club are to have any chance of competing with Chelsea and Manchester United.
The Spain striker, who faces six weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury sustained in the shock FA Cup defeat by Reading, is the most high-profile player to speak out publicly about how Liverpool are being run under Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr.
"It's now the owners' turn," Torres said. "They have to sign players so that this does not happen again. If we want to compete with United and Chelsea, we need a much, much more complete squad. We need more genuinely first-class players and we can't let our best players leave."
The limitations of Rafael Benitez's squad have been laid bare in a season in which they have already crashed out of the Champions League, FA Cup and Carling Cup and have again failed to mount a challenge for the Premier League title.
Reading's victory at Anfield in a third-round replay served only to intensify the pressure on Benitez, but the indications are that his position as manager is not under immediate threat.
The Liverpool hierarchy has committed itself to seeing out the season with Benitez in charge and even Wednesday night's defeat will not force them into a rethink.
There is, however, mounting concern about Liverpool's ability to finish in the top four, particularly with Torres, Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun facing injury lay-offs.
Should Liverpool fail to qualify for next season's Champions League, the manager's position will come under renewed pressure at the end of the campaign.
Leading bookmakers responded yesterday to the growing feeling that Benitez is on borrowed time by making him odds-on favourite to be dismissed before the season ends. But that flies in the face of the opinion of the Liverpool board, that the 49-year-old has exceeded expectations during the past five and a half years.
There is also no appetite on the Spaniard's part to resign. Having signed a new five-year contract only last March, he remains committed to working his way out of the current malaise.
His lengthy, lucrative contract could provide one explanation for the refusal of the Liverpool board to contemplate dismissing Benitez.
With the club's £237m debts and resultant interest payments in the region of £30m a year, there is little cash available to finance the kind of expensive incursion into the transfer market that Torres is seeking, let alone to fund a pay-off of about £12m for their manager.
The feeling of gloom at Anfield increased yesterday when fitness bulletins were delivered on Torres, Gerrard and Benayoun, who picked up injuries during the defeat by Reading.
As if losing Torres for up to six weeks was not bad enough, Benitez will also be without Benayoun -- because of a fractured rib -- and Gerrard for a fortnight after he suffered a hamstring strain.
Benitez can ill afford to be without three of his most important attacking players, particularly with Glen Johnson still out due to the knee injury he picked up nearly three weeks ago.
In years gone by, Liverpool would have been expected to respond to such a slump in form and rash of injuries by making funds available to their manager. But such a scenario is highly unlikely during the January transfer window because of the financial restrictions that continue to hamper the club.
The Liverpool manager has been assured that he can reinvest whatever income is produced from the potential sale of Ryan Babel and the injury to Torres is likely to force him to train his sights on a forward. (© The Times, London)