x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Liverpool to be lifted by Torres

Fernando Torres is desperate to return to action and play a part in his old club's downfall in the Champions League.

Fernando Torres, the Liverpool striker, has missed the Reds' last five games.
Fernando Torres, the Liverpool striker, has missed the Reds' last five games.

Sometimes matches are defined by those who do not play rather than those who do. It takes a certain calibre of absentee to cast a shadow over the longest unbeaten start in English football this season, but then Fernando Torres has long proved his ability to overshadow others.

In two of Liverpool's last four games, Torres has been missed, albeit in different ways. When Liverpool visited the Vicente Calderon Stadium 13 days ago, the former Atletico Madrid centre-forward forsook a VIP reception to stay on Merseyside in an attempt to recover from his hamstring problem. At White Hart Lane on Saturday, meanwhile, Liverpool's first defeat of the season was a consequence of a series of spurned chances.

After five games on the sidelines, therefore, their most clinical finisher's return is welcome. "Hopefully he will be ready," said manager Rafa Benitez. "Clearly when you have a striker with the quality and potential of Torres, and he is available, it's a very good option. We have an important match against Atletico Madrid and having Fernando starting or on the bench is a good option for us. He was very frustrated not to play in the first game against them."

Seven seasons of service, along with his appointment as Atletico captain while still a teenager, guarantees Torres a fine reception from the travelling Atletico fans. There should, too, be applause from the Liverpool supporters for two of their alumni. "I've been looking forward to going back to Anfield," said Florent Sinama-Pongolle, who was largely restricted to cameos in his time at Liverpool. Luis Garcia, however, was an integral part of Benitez's Champions League-winning team. Consistency was never the Spaniard's forte, but he had a fondness for the spectacular and scored in the last 16, the quarter-final and the semi-final in 2004-5 to acquire the reputation of a European specialist.

There is a further connection between the clubs in the shape of Simao Sabrosa, a former target for Benitez. The Portuguese scored as Benfica ended Liverpool's defence of the title in 2006 and netted Atletico's equaliser two weeks ago. It leaves the two sides locked together at the top of Group D with seven points apiece. Qualification appears probable for both, but finishing first should make further progress simpler.

It will be instructive which side Benitez selects. Martin Skrtel apart, his major players are all available. In attack, the choice is of especial interest. Robbie Keane, whose two Liverpool goals have come in the last two Champions League games, may be the man displaced by the returning Torres. Atletico's coach Javier Aguirre should be aware of the advantages of restoring a goalscorer to the line-up. Sergio Aguero, the man signed with the proceeds of Torres' sale, scored twice on his comeback as Atletico defeated Real Mallorca 2-0 on Saturday.