The kid is back.
Throughout last season, Liverpool supporters groaned as Fernando Torres fell again and again into the arms of Ol’ Mistress Injury. We groaned throughout the summer’s World Cup as he looked far from his best and couldn’t find a single goal (although we also groaned when Pedro ignored a wide open Torres to take a fruitless chance of his own against Germany). And we nearly had a heart attack when Torres collapsed in the closing seconds of the final against the Netherlands. The kid made us feel a little better when he threw the Liverpool scarf around his neck before hoisting the World Cup trophy. But mostly we groaned.
This season started slow for both Liverpool and Fernando Torres. (Maybe he’s literally a different player: now that his hair is short and dark I can’t always pick him out on the pitch when the camera’s pulled back. Maybe it’s not Torres at all…) Anyway: more groaning. I can’t complain too heartily about the results themselves. A draw against Arsenal and a loss to City cannot come as too big a surprise after all the misery of last season. The points aren’t the end of the world. But it’s the way we came to those results that kills me. Dropping the two points against the Gunners with a late own-goal. Losing three-nil to City in a performance that had less spark than a box of matches in a bowl of water. In the opening league fixtures, Torres looked a crumpled, spent version of his former self. The side looked drab and aimless.
Oh. Please. Not. Again. I can’t take another season as bad as the last.
After a good win in Turkey this past Thursday, Liverpool took on West Bromwich Albion. Here was a chance to get our momentum back, I thought. A good hiding of the newly (re)promoted Baggies will help Liverpool find the match confidence to get the League campaign a much needed boost. Six-nil, I said.
“Six nil?” said my Irish friend Kevin, owner of the pub where we watch the matches. “Ha. I don’t know what team you’ve been watching. I’ll be happy with three points.”
One-nil, said Kevin.
And for most of ninety minutes, we looked awful. Again: no spark. No drive. Where was the urgency of 2005’s comeback against Milan? Where was the determination of the 2008/2009 season? It evaporated in the sere desert of last year. The main problem, as I saw it, was in the midfield. Once again, Liverpool were relying far too much on Lucas Leiva. While I think the young Brazilian has improved somewhat since his arrival, he will never ignite an attack like Xabi Alonso could and he’ll never provide the defensive backbone of Javier Mascherano. Asking him to fill either of these roles is futile. Xabi and Javier are gone. Lucas Leiva is only Lucas Leiva. This is not the team’s only problem. But on the pitch, it is one of the biggest ones.
I spent most of the match screaming from a bar in Boston, Massachusetts at Roy Hodgson to take off Lucas and put in Ryan Babel. Pull Gerrard back into the midfield to take command. Give Torres some support up front.
But then, in the final half-hour of play, Mssrs Kuyt, Gerrard and Torres suddenly seemed to switch themselves on. There had been no major tactical change except for switching Kuyt to the left side. These three began creating dynamic triangles of movement and passing. They kept finding each other in dangerous spaces. They were running West Brom ragged.
Liverpool only scored one goal, but it was insanely gorgeous. Dirk Kuyt found Fernando Torres. Torres pushed the ball out wide for Kuyt. Torres hung back in the box and Kuyt launched a perfect cross into his path. El Niño struck the volley. The ball bounced sharply and flew into the net.
Dirk and Nando slid to their knees into hugging each other. Nando slapped Dirk on the back continually. The goal was something perfect they’d made together.
Our pub erupted. We slapped away the tension that had kept us quiet throughout the match. We sang the Torres song.
Fer-nan-do Tor-res: Liverpool’s Number Nine!!
Looks of relief circulated the room. In the end it meant all three points. Kevin was right about the scoreline. I was wrong but: whatever. We had the win.
Finally a league victory. We’ve needed this. But Liverpool still have a lot to work on to get this campaign to a healthy spot.
It is somewhat comforting that three potentially clutch players were watching from the stands. The suspended Joe Cole. The new signing Raul Meireles. The expected new signing Paul Konchesky. And since Roy Hodgson has said he’d like to try to get one more striker in the door before the trade window closes tomorrow, he seems to know what the side needs. (I pray the move, if made, also involves Lucas Leiva going the other way.)
Even if he can’t bring someone else in, Hodgson seems intent on converting Ryan Babel back to the role of striker, which could be a wise and timely ploy.
The parts are falling into place. What this side needs now is a quick surge of chemistry between the newcomers and the veterans, and Hodgson needs to show he can get the most out of his squad the way he did with Fulham.
I think he can do it. We’ll see if I feel the same way in a few months.
In the meantime, Fernando Torres needs to dye his hair back to blonde. Oh yeah: and keep scoring.