Baros. Cisse. Morientes. Crouch. Kuyt. Bellamy. Voronin. Keane.
Since Rafael Benitez took the helm at Liverpool FC, he’s maintained a revolving door of strikers, searching for the perfect frontline duo. And while he’s fielded many natural hitmen with the ability to keep his side in top four contention and remain a serious Champions League threat, it is only now, when he’s pushed Liverpool’s quintessential midfielder further forward, that Benitez has found a pair who may be the key to Liverpool ending their long title drought: Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.
When Torres arrived at Anfield, one could almost hear a general sigh of relief escape Gerrard’s lungs. The captain would no longer be Liverpool’s one true match-changer. He could now share the burden with a world-class Spanish talent. Like Gerrard, Fernando Torres is bursting with intelligence, deftness and endless spirit which combine into a fierce, unpredictable attack that few defenders can hope to contain. He removed any doubt of his worth in his Anfield league debut with a stunning goal against Chelsea FC in August 2007. After pushing the ball past the bewildered Tal Ben Haim, Torres found the perfect angle and fired the ball into the far corner, past Peter Cech, one of the world’s finest keepers. After that the goals kept coming. Torres scored 33 in all competitions in his first year with the Reds.
But without a suitable partner for Torres, Benitez started him up front alone in most matches and defenders eventually learned to crowd him out. Torres has scored many fine goals this season, but between injuries and the lack of space granted by defenders, he’s far behind his impressive tally of 2007/2008. Given time, Robbie Keane might have proved a good foil for the Spainish striker, but just as it looked like they were building some chemistry, Torres went out with injury. Keane struggled to find goals, was benched and eventually sold back to Tottenham. Dirk Kuyt had become Liverpool’s first choice right-winger, rarely reprising his role as striker. And David Ngog, while showing promise, is far from ready for regular first team starts. Was Torres destined to strike alone?
Finally, Benitez found the killer combination. It had been there all along. With Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso both in top form and able to control the midfield, Steven Gerrard has been pushed forward into a more attacking role. Gerrard hovers between being an advanced midfielder and a second striker, and the freedom he is given allows him to keep defenses guessing. No longer can back lines gang up on Torres for they’ll just be giving Gerrard more space to storm in and score goals. And when Torres only has to ward of one or two defenders rather than three or four, he is going to carve out space for himself and create endless danger.
Gerrard and Torres have both endured time away due to injury. But when they’ve played together they have devastated. The recent back-to-back thrashings of Real Madrid and Manchester United owed a lot to these two attackers. Torres opened scoring in both matches. Gerrard converted a penalty against Real and later burst into the box to meet a Ryan Babel cross with a scorching half-volley shot to put the match out of reach for the Spanish giants. Against Manchester United, Gerrard was in on goal twice, forcing defenders to take him down on both occasions, earning a penalty and a free kick. Liverpool converted both.
Against big sides, Liverpool have done well despite injuries. With both Gerrard and Torres fit, they have demolished.
Is Gerrard ready to be an out and out striker? Probably not. His love for influencing the match with brilliant setup play will keep him hovering between midfield and the front. But as he is currently tied with Miroslav Klose for top scorer in the Champions League and tied with Cristiano Ronaldo for second in the EPL, just two goals behind Nicolas Anelka: it seems Gerrard has found his place. And Torres has found a partner.
If the two can stay fit, the goals will keep coming.