Injured Fernando Torres: Disaster for Liverpool FC but Good for England
When Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez recently substituted star striker Fernando Torres in the middle of the second half in the away match at Birmingham City, photos of a stunned and bewildered Torres, and his captain Steven Gerrard, were splashed everywhere.
In the following game against Benfica, Torres was sublime and finished with a brace as Liverpool brushed past the Portuguese champions-elect to book their place in the semifinals of the Europa League.
Once Torres secured the tie with his second goal, he was duly taken out of the fray and wrapped in cotton wool for the upcoming visit of Fulham a few days later.
But come match day, when the team sheet was released, the Spaniard did not even make the bench.
Unsurprisingly, without their Spanish ace, Liverpool were toothless. And despite having the lion’s share of possession and numerous good opportunities to bury the Londoners, the Reds could only manage a disappointing draw.
The media and pundits had a field day and jumped all over Benitez. Rafa’s team selection was once again put under the microscope and serious questions were asked about the man management of his top striker.
Benitez, however, was not to be budged and he maintained the position that his treatment and handling of Torres was correct and should not be questioned. He continued to allege that he knew more about the physical state of his players than the pundits and the so-called "football experts" did.
Sure enough, the day after the dismal draw against Fulham, it was announced that the Spanish striker would be examined by a knee specialist back home in his native Spain and begin to receive treatment.
In the next game against West Ham, there was speculation that Torres may well play some part and Benitez himself said that his prized striker may get a run out.
But Rafa Benitez knows and controls everything about his players’ physical and mental conditions, and it would have been surprising to have seen Torres feature against West Ham.
Then on the Monday, following the home win against the Hammers, the news that all Liverpool fans were dreading finally came. It was announced that Torres had undergone surgery to repair a torn cartilage in his right knee.
Worse still, Liverpool would be without their goal scoring machine for the all important run in to the end of the season.
It has subsequently been revealed that the actual injury occurred very early on in the Benfica game. But even earlier than that, maybe Benitez knew something that spectators and the media did not. And maybe there was a legitimate and logical reason behind the mysterious substitution during the Birmingham game.
For all the criticism that Benitez has had to endure for failing to play his top striker or substituting him, when playing him or keeping him on the pitch was what the spectators, pundits, and fans would have wanted, maybe the gaffer knew what he was doing.
Rafa kept insisting that he knew his players better than anyone else, possibly even better than the players themselves. He never deviated from this position.
Rather than everyone trying to second guess him and disparaging his decision making, they should have trusted the manager to do what was best for the club.
Without such prudent man management by Benitez, Liverpool might well have lost the services of their top marksman weeks earlier than they eventually did.
It is quite possible that Rafa has known that Torres’s right knee has been a weakness for some time now, and rather than spell this out during press conferences and interviews, he has been trying to manage this situation the best way possible for the player and club.
The Liverpool manager has been overtly critical of referees not giving Torres enough protection. His calls to referees to give his striker proper protection from illegal challenges have been vociferous, as he has had the knowledge that Torres’ dodgy knee could have given way under a heavy tackle at any time.
So maybe rather than being so distrusting of Benitez, we should give him thanks for protecting his star prize and allowing him to contribute what he has been able to this season, for without Rafa, it could have been a lot less.
But it is what it is and Liverpool will have to attempt to clinch the fourth spot and lift the Europa League trophy without the goals of Fernando Torres.
There is however, one party that will benefit from the injury to Torres, in fact it has already started seeing these benefits; this party is Fabio Capello and, in particular, his England team.
Without the spearhead of Liverpool’s attack, Benitez has opted to give David Ngog a fellow striker to play alongside. This has meant that Steven Gerrard has slotted back into central midfield.
And if truth be told, he relishes this role. It is, of course, his most favoured position and volumes have been written of his love of playing in this position, and his huge talent is far better served there.
Certainly, against West Ham, he sat alongside his defensive midfield partner, this time Lucas, and pulled all the strings and controlled the flow of the game. He sprayed long accurate passes, made late runs into the box, and generally took the game by the scruff of the neck.
There have been many voices raised this season suggesting that the Liverpool captain has had a relatively poor season and has not controlled games as he is known to be able to.
However, when his partner Torres is missing or off-key, Gerrard also seems to be less potent. This may be one of the reasons for a sub-standard season from the captain. Moving back into his more favoured central midfield position may allow him to once again boss games and stamp his authority on them.
Fabio Capello and England fans will be rejoicing, because due to the injury of Torres, Rafa has started to play Gerrard in a central midfield role. This will give Gerrard a few competitive games to get back to playing in the role he so relishes and England so need him to excel in.
With the World Cup only round the corner, Liverpool’s sad loss could turn out to be England’s gain, as they benefit from Gerrard beginning to again play his club football in the role that Capello most wants to see him play in.
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