x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Torres removes the shackles

Two months of largely defence-orientated football has kept Liverpool in contention; three months of more progressive play may be required to clinch fourth place.

Fernando Torres, left, is congratulated by teammate Steven Gerrard, right, after scoring against Blackburn Rovers.
Fernando Torres, left, is congratulated by teammate Steven Gerrard, right, after scoring against Blackburn Rovers.

LIVERPOOL // The names were as familiar as they were welcome. They slip off the tongue as easily as they evade opposing defenders. Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, the modern-day Dalglish and Rush, Keegan and Toshack, Hunt and St John, were toget-her again. Not united in attack, admittedly, but together on the scoresheet as Liverpool were finally able to cast off the caution. Torres's first Premier League start of 2010 brought his first goal of the year. It is probably no coincidence that a liberated Gerrard, operating in a deeper role in midfield, ended a lengthy wait for a league goal. Between them, they elevated Liverpool's level of performance. The next challenge is to lift their side into the coveted Champions League spot.

Two months of largely defence-orientated football has kept Liverpool in contention; three months of more progressive play may be required to clinch fourth place, but, despite their inability to get a third goal and end fears of a Blackburn comeback, this represented a step in the right direction. Rafa Benitez was encouragingly forward thinking. Javier Mascherano's deployment as a raiding right-back was a consequence of defensive injuries, but it also added an element of adventure. Yossi Benayoun's deft footwork on the left flank gave Liverpool another attacking outlet. Injured, like Torres, against Reading in January, the Israeli's return adds another facet in the final third.

Nevertheless, there was a predictability about the identity of the scorers. After receiving a pass from Benayoun, the England midfielder performed a rapid change of direction, which flummoxed Christopher Samba, before beating defeating Paul Robinson with a dinked finish. It was just his first league goal since November and Liverpool's first in three games. While Blackburn had been the more positive side before then, their equaliser nonetheless came as a surprise, Keith Andrews converting from the penalty spot. It proved a brief taste of parity.

Four minutes after Blackburn levelled, Torres got the Reds back in front with his 13th in 15 starts this season. Symbiotic as his relationship with Gerrard is, the 25-year-old combines well with another, stationed rather further away. Whenever his compatriot is present, Jose Reina looks to the No 9 to launch quick counter-attacks. Indirectly, it brought Torres' goal. Short of numbers at the back, Blackburn were unable to clear the goalkeeper's kick. Lucas arrowed a pass towards Torres. A stretching Samba got a touch to take it into Maxi Rodriguez's path. The Argentine picked out Torres to finish.

Rodriguez had provided his first assist at Anfield. A maiden goal could have followed, an audacious attempt from the right flank drawing an acrobatic save from Paul Robinson. Yet the slenderness of their advantage meant the match ended as it began, with Blackburn on the attack. Rovers had been the more positive side initially and their set-piece proficiency ensured Liverpool endured some awkward moments with Reina making a fine save to thwart Samba and the improving Kalinic proving a particular menace.

Benitez and Sam Allardyce have a fractious relationship that was mirrored by their respective teams. Blackburn were fortunate to finish with a full complement of players with Steven Nzonzi, who shoved Lucas over, a particular beneficiary of referee Alan Wiley's leniency. sports@thenational.ae