Torres the key as Liverpool seek to rein in United
Fernando Torres has handed Liverpool a massive boost ahead of Saturday's must-win clash with Manchester United by predicting that he will be 100 per cent fit in time for the lunchtime kick-off.sports Updated: Mar 14, 2009 10:53 IST
Fernando Torres has handed Liverpool a massive boost ahead of Saturday's must-win clash with Manchester United by predicting that he will be 100 per cent fit in time for the lunchtime kick-off.
The difference a fit Torres makes to Rafael Benitez's side was perfectly illustrated by his stunning display in Tuesday's 4-0 Champions League demolition of Real Madrid at Anfield.
The match was the Spanish striker's first in two weeks and he admitted he had played through the pain of an ankle injury which meant his foot was encased in a protective cast as soon as he came off.
But Torres is confident that the intensive treatement he has been having will ensure he is ready to go again at Old Trafford in an encounter which, he recognises, Liverpool simply must win if they are to retain a glimmer of hope of catching United in the title race.
"I feel good," he reported. "My ankle felt a little painful in the second half against Real, but that doesn't matter for a match like this.
"I'm training hard and I think I will be 100 per cent for Saturday. It is a massive game that I hope to win, because that will give us more chances in the league. We know it's very important to win there, if not they will be many points ahead."
Ten points ahead, in fact, with a game in hand and only ten games left to play: not the kind of lead Sir Alex Ferguson's sides are prone to giving away.
Torres's team-mate Javier Mascherano, who was at his destructive best in the Liverpool midfield on Tuesday, underlined the importance of Torres being fit enough to unsettle a United's rock-solid back four.
"Fernando was fantastic against Real," the Argentina captain said. "He was unbelievable. Hopefully he can be at the same level against United on Saturday because he is so important for us.
"We know that it will be really difficult at Old Trafford but we have to try to play in the same way as we did against Real."
Barring a late setback for Torres, Liverpool are expected to stick with what is now an established first-choice line-up: Mascherano and Xabi Alonso shielding the defence, Dirk Kuyt on the right, Ryan Babel on the left and Steven Gerrard and Torres marauding through the middle.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, in contrast, is likely to shuffle his pack at least a little after taking the rare step of publicly criticising his players' performance in Wednesday night's 2-0 win over Inter Milan.
Although that was sufficient to send United into the last eight of the Champions League, Ferguson was furious over the complacency he saw creeping into his side's performance after they took an early lead.
Long-serving servants of the club Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were not spared the lash of their manager's tongue and, with Michael Carrick also having had an off night, it seems likely that Darren Fletcher and/or Park Ji-Sung will come in to freshen up United's midfield.
Carlos Tevez, outstanding at Fulham last weekend, must also be hoping for a rare start given how marginal Dimitar Berbatov was to the key action on Wednesday evening.
Liverpool's 2-1 win over United at Anfield back in September was their first league win over their biggest rivals under Benitez and one he predicted would imbue his squad with sufficient self-belief for them to go on and claim the club's first league title since 1990.
As things have turned out, it is United who have gone from strength to strength since that defeat while Liverpool have stumbled badly since the turn of the year, their slide unfortunately coinciding with Benitez's ill-advised outburst over Ferguson's perceived excessive influence in the English game.
There is no doubting however the extent to which confidence levels in Benitez's squad have surged in the aftermath of their performance in midweek.
"After beating Real 4-0 you have to think we have a chance at Old Trafford," argued Kuyt, the Dutch forward that Benitez has turned into a right-sided midfielder. "Man United are a very good team and we have to be focused but the confidence in the team at this moment is high. We know we can beat the big teams."