It's hard to think of a player ever meaning more to a club's hopes than Fernando Torres does for Liverpool. Reds manager Roy Hodgson is sweating as the Liverpool ace continues to give no indication that he is willing to stay with the club for another season.
Without Torres, Liverpool looks to be a team that will have a difficult time competing for a Champions League place. Even with fresh optimism under Hodgson, and the wonderful free transfers of Joe Cole and Milan Jovanović, Torres would be impossible to replace.
If he does stay at Anfield, they will be a certainty to break into the top four once again, and possibly push for their first title since 1990. Everything seems to hinge on the vital decision of Torres.
Looking at the current Liverpool squad, their group isn't too far different from the one that finished just 4 points behind Premier League champions Manchester United in 2008-09. The most important difference is, of course, the loss of "pass master" Xabi Alonso. The creative void could be filled by the recent addition of the skilled Cole. Álvaro Arbeloa's consistency was missed at Anfield last season, but Glen Johnson never had the chance to show his best form due to injures.
Otherwise, most of that team is intact. Hodgson needs to replace the oft-injured Fábio Aurélio, and even if Javier Mascherano decides to leave, Liverpool's depth at central midfield is impressive. Cole's presence will allow Gerrard to play in his preferred deeper-lying role, where he can dictate more of the game's tempo. Mascherano's departure could also lend Hodgson the funds he needs to improve the club's weaker positions.
2009-10 was a miserable season for Liverpool, as they slumped to 7th place. It was truly a year where "Murphy's Law" applied, in that anything that could go wrong actually went wrong. Torres and Gerrard suffered long injury-related absences, and £20 million signing Alberto Aquilani was barely seen on the pitch.
Liverpool got very little out of Aquilani, and the midfielder has a clean slate to prove his value under Hodgson. Gerrard had the most difficult season of his career and is eager to bounce back, boosted by the acquisition of Cole and Hodgson's arrival. Maxi Rodríguez found his form as the season closed and Hodgson might be the manager able to get the best out of Ryan Babel.
Cole is a top-class signing and will surely be a hit at Anfield. Liverpool have long needed a creative, slippery dribbler in the midfield to keep opposing defences on their back foot. Jovanović had a fine World Cup for Serbia and is another player who adds an attacking threat. It seems like all the pieces are in place for the Reds to mount a realistic title challenge—that is, if Torres stays.
Should the Spanish striker depart, it would be extremely difficult for Liverpool to fill the scoring void left in his absence. Gerrard and Cole provide a genuine "fear factor" for the opposition, but without Torres, goals might be hard to come by.
Outside of Gerrard, there isn't a player besides Torres in the squad that is a consistent goal-scorer. Dirk Kuyt can chip in a decent number of goals and Jovanović's totals with Standard Liège were impressive, but he's completely unproven in the Premiership. Cole could see dramatically increased goal totals at Anfield as he will be given more freedom than ever under Hodgson, but Liverpool really aren't a club with an abundance of goal-getters.
That's why Torres is almost irreplaceable. If he were to commit himself to the Reds, Liverpool could be in for a tremendous season. They have the pieces around him to seriously contend once again for the Premier League title. Without him though, Hodgson faces the unenviable task of trying to replace a player who is able to score goals in so many different ways and with such frequency.