Why Fernando Torres Thrived at Liverpool Under Benitez
Since his £50 million move to Chelsea in January 2011, Fernando Torres has been criticised for a lack of form, lack of ability, lack of goals and a general malaise compared to his scintillating best that he showed for Liverpool.
Now that he is under new management at Stamford Bridge in Rafael Benitez, questions are inevitably being asked of whether the Spanish boss can make his old star striker back into the lethal machine he was when the Reds were one of the best sides in Europe.
Torres is now 28 years old and into what should be considered his prime years. If he was able to get back to the energetic and irrepressible levels he showed earlier in his career, then the Blues might see full value on their record signing after all.
There are differences in Torres' own game though compared to three or four years ago, and he is playing in a differently styled team too.
Here are the reasons why El Niño was such a success at Liverpool under the former Reds boss.
Quick Style of Attacking
Liverpool were labelled "defensive" under Rafael Benitez at times. The notion was thoroughly ridiculous.
Sure, the Reds had a wonderful defensive record (most successful teams do), but they were anything but defensive. Liverpool were compact at the back but broke forward quickly and at their best were able to press in the opposition half to prolong spells of attacking.
This rapid turnover lent itself to Fernando Torres' preference of running onto through balls in a big way, and importantly it also meant that he was supported by other players.
When the Reds didn't play so well or so fluidly in the final third, it was commonplace to see the centre-forward isolated and, marked closely by two defenders on multiple occasions, unable to get many chances on goal.
It was a different story when the final third clicked for Liverpool, and Torres made terrific use of the space afforded to him by his teammates.
Torres Held His Position, Always Facing Toward Goal
It's one thing getting the ball forward at pace, but the striker still has to take advantage of that quick turnover.
Torres was the master at it for two reasons. Firstly his positioning, and secondly his movement.
Whoever had the ball on his team, Torres knew where the pass would be played and when to make his move. Always, his body was ready on the half turn so that he could use his acceleration to outpace the defender.
The passes didn't always go directly to Torres, of course.
Such was his ability though that as much as he was a threat on the ground and running through on goal, he was also a big danger aerially. Any crosses which were aimed around the penalty spot or the front of the six-yard box had a good chance of being diverted inside the near post by the floppy blonde locks of Torres.
Even receiving the ball outside the penalty area was no real problem, again because of his shape and propensity to head toward goal at the earliest opportunity. More than once Liverpool fans witnessed the sublime, slaloming action of the Spaniard before the inevitable bulge of the net.
There was absolutely no need for Fernando Torres to drop deep regularly, involve himself in the link-up play down the flanks or track back consistently—other players were there to do that for him.
That's not to say he had no work rate; for his first two or three seasons he was one of the hardest-working players in the team. But his best talents lay at the top end of the field and that was where he spent most of his time.
Confident Striker in a Quality Side
Torres trusted his teammates to get him the ball and they trusted him to stick it in the net. And that's what happened 81 times in 142 matches.
Confident with his place in the side and trusting in his own ability, Torres went into every match believing he could be the match-winner. Often that was exactly the case.
Even when he was injured, he knew that he would be straight back in the team; there was rarely anybody to play instead of him and the club needed him.
In addition, the rest of the team was set up to get the best from Torres, from the deep playmakers who could spray passes the length of the pitch to the wingers who supported in attack but knew the main goal threat was the man in the No. 9 shirt.
Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa, Dirk Kuyt, Yossi Benayoun...these players all contributed at either end of the pitch to make Torres' life easier and more dedicated to the sole effect of scoring goals.
Benitez bought players to fit the system once he'd settled on which one worked best, and they were all there to provide ammunition for his star striker.
Of course, there was one other rather important piece of the Benitez jigsaw.
Steven Gerrard was at his absolute peak when he combined so effortlessly and prolifically with Fernando Torres.
Liverpool's 4-2-3-1 provided Gerrard with a solid platform behind him, clever players on either side and the world's top striker beyond.
Gerrard revelled in the more attack-minded side of the game, had the physical capacity to get beyond Torres frequently and was so delighted to have a similarly talented player alongside him that the two clicked in a big way on the field.
In 2008-09 as Liverpool challenged for the title, they managed 30 goals and 12 assists between them in 50 starts; if Torres had have been fit for more than half of that campaign, there is every chance the Reds would have ended their long wait to lift the league trophy.
Gerrard was creating three good chances per game for his teammates at that point and had Torres been on the end of more of them, then it might have been a different story.
For too short a time, this was perhaps the best all-around attack pairing in the country.
Relationship with Supporters
Soon after Torres arrived at the club, where as the record transfer signing he was obviously welcomed as a hero, the striker impressed the watching Reds not just with his goals but with his willingness to work for the team.
Torres was seen in his first season or two racing back after losing the ball, nicking it off a midfielder and passing short to his team mates—Liverpool back in possession.
This, along with his magnificent penchant for scoring goals, saw him lofted above merely a favourite and into the realm of being an idol to the supporters. Numerous interviews and photos saw him integrating into the Liverpool lifestyle and a chat with Kenny Dalglish over the history of the club meant he was even more highly thought of.
There can be little doubt that his relationship with the supporters at Anfield helped inspire him to new heights at times, as they rocked to the sound of his song and encouraged him to greater feats.
Sadly it was to come to an unsavoury end when he left for Chelsea, who had become great rivals of the Reds over the past half a dozen years as they both battled for domestic and European success.
Some two years later there are plenty who would have Torres back in heartbeat, but for others he yet remains the villain of the piece and Liverpool have not yet recovered from or replaced the departure of their star out-and-out striker.
Statistical data from EPLindex.com