Call it a quirk of fate or irony, but one man's past and present collide tonight, each trying to denying the other some welcome respite in a troubled year.
Liverpool and Atletico battle for last trophy hope
Call it a quirk of fate or irony, but one man's past and present collide tonight, each trying to denying the other some welcome respite in a troubled year. For Fernando Torres, lifelong Atletico Madrid fan and the greatest import in Liverpool's recent history, it is either a no-win situation or a guarantee that one of his clubs will compete in the Europa League final. A player who left his home city for Merseyside in a bid for honours could be denied them by the club he deemed unable to realise his ambitions. And, as ever, Torres will be powerless to stop them. This is Liverpool's fourth meeting with Atletico in Torres' three years on Merseyside. Due to injury, he has missed them all.
None have assumed such a significance, however. Diego Forlan, signed with the proceeds of Torres' sale in 2007, scored the first-leg goal to give Atletico the advantage. A dismal domestic campaign - Atletico are only 10th in La Liga - could be alleviated by success on the continent. Seventh in the Premier League, Liverpool have similar hopes. "During my time at Atletico we as players never managed to do justice to the club's history," Torres wrote in his autobiography, El Nino. This has been a year when Liverpool have not done justice to theirs prompting suggestions Torres is tiring of their underachievement. Their No 9's has been a constant quest for silverware. He won Euro 2008 with Spain, but has never lifted a trophy in his club career. Knee surgery means he is reliant upon others to win one this year. Quite who is a question of increasing pertinence. His normal deputy David Ngog missed Sunday's 4-0 win against Burnley with a back problem; the seemingly indestructible Dirk Kuyt led the line there, only to come off with a calf problem. Ryan Babel, the fourth-choice centre forward, ended the match as the spearhead in attack, where Alberto Aquilani may be his sidekick. In comparison, Atletico are able to pair Forlan with Sergio Aguero, who sat out last week's match at the Vicente Calderon Stadium due to suspension.
Liverpool's absentees and injury doubts confer a still greater importance on Steven Gerrard. "The sooner the game arrives the better," the captain said on the club's official website. Drawing, perhaps, on memories of some of the great European nights he has experienced - Olympiakos and Juventus, Real Madrid and Chelsea - he added: "These are the games players want to play in, and these are the nights heroes are made. If you don't want to play in these games there's something wrong with you. It's the biggest game of the season." Some might have applied that description to Sunday's meeting with Chelsea. But there appears to have been a subtle shift in priorities. Fourth place and the ensuing Champions League football is more lucrative, but a fourth successive season without a trophy is a gloomy prospect. "We are confident and determined," said Atletico captain's Antonio Lopez. "Although we know that it's going to be a very complicated game, in which Liverpool are going to show a different side to the one at the Calderon."
Different sides have plenty of common denominators: Maxi Rodriguez, ineligible tonight, joined Liverpool from Atletico in January; Jose Reina's father, Miguel, kept goal for them in a European Cup final in 1974; Rafa Benitez's father, Francisco, supported them. Yet the most obvious will be sat in the stands tonight. "Destiny seemed to have decided that if I ever left Atletico Madrid it would be for Liverpool," Torres said. Destiny's decisions today could determine much, from the outcome of the tie to the future of players and managers. firstname.lastname@example.org