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Torres: How Does Roy Solve A Problem Like Fernando?

Fernando Torres Liverpool 2010/11 Birmingham City V Liverpool (0-0) 12/09/10 The Premier League Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

It is never surprising to hear Sir Alex Ferguson saying something ‘controversial’. Whether it’s emotional, pointless sniping at a beleaguered enemy or an attempt some kind of Jedi Mind Trick deployed to ‘psych out’ Liverpool and their players is up to you. An interesting point with Ferguson’s ‘Torres is the biggest cheater ever, EVER’ (possible paraphrase) comments is that they made headlines in most of Monday’s (English) newspaper sport sections – and this is indicative of the apparent need for character-centric narratives for much of the English press.

Of more interest however, rather than his ‘diving’, is his lack of incisiveness when playing alone up front. His two integral moments in Liverpool’s temporary comeback (winning the free kick and penalty) came with the entrance of David N’Gog alongside him at 2-0. The former was created largely with N’Gog drawing Jonny Evans out of position, allowing Torres to play off the dozing O’Shea and run behind Vidic. For an hour, without a partner alongside him, Torres was ineffectually drifting along the back-four, as Liverpool’s midfield struggled to find him with the ball. Roy Hodgson’s initial reaction to that may well be to partner Torres with N’Gog for the forseeable future – and it will probably end up being a popular move with the Sky Sports/Match of the Day punditocracy, as it necessitates a change from The Purveyor Of All That Is Ever Wrong With Anything Ever, Rafa Benitez, and necessitates Steven Gerrard moving into his ‘best position’ (where, curiously, he rarely plays well enough to stay for an extended period of time) in the middle of midfield.

But that not only moves Gerrard from the position where he has been most effective for his club (in the ‘hole’ behind Torres), but also means Roy has to play a 4-4-2: yes, the very same 4-4-2 that was routed by Manchester City and their fifty holding midfielders at Eastlands. And yes, the same 4-4-2 that became unable to get the ball back off United yesterday once the score went to 3-2. Well, one could argue, he has to leave Torres up front on his own then – to maintain a midfield worthy of preventing a complete massacre – even if it reduces Torres’s efficiency, at least he won’t lose games, and Torres will surely start scoring sooner or later.

But what if he doesn’t? Jurgen Klinsmann stated when in charge of Bayern Munich that he will play two strikers at every opportunity, partly to help keep his strikers fresh. The strain upon a lone striker is so great, in terms of the physical stature, pace, technique and concentration needed to perform the role effectively, that playing the role without a significant break would soon be detrimental. ‘I wouldn’t like to be Torres in two years’ was the general idea, and the strain on Torres may be akin to that placed on Ronaldo at Inter Milan – as from a silky, quicksilver forward he too tried to become a buccaneering lone striker, with injured consequences. And now we look at the Spaniard. From his arrival at Liverpool in 2007 he has been working almost without a break: in 2008 he played in the Euros (a major tournament generally means a truncated break for players), then the next season he spent playing (without a winter break) and working hard recovering from injuries, then the Confederations Cup before the same story the next season, before the World Cup.

And it has taken its toll: once fresh-faced, blond and smiling, then blond and powerful, now Torres lopes around defences, unfit, brown haired and non-threatening, like a late-era Ruud van Nistelrooy for Manchester United. With a partner alongside, the strain is less apparent, as he is not having to work as hard against four defenders – but playing N’Gog or Kuyt alongside him leaves the midfield often unable to cope against teams with 3 central midfielders. Perhaps the solution is give Torres an extended break, perhaps for a month or two, in order to recharge his batteries. Roy can try and muddle through with Babel, N’Gog, Jovanovic and Kuyt – and maybe Torres could well come back refreshed and (at least) as good as ever.

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  1. CA_backpacker

    September 23, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    And there in lies the problem. Lucas and Co ain’t cutting it against opponents with any class in midfield. Torres never gets the ball, Gerrard gets frustrated and everything bogs down when we get into the attacking third. It all went downhill when we lost Xavi, his passing was the glue that held Liverpool together…

  2. nathan

    September 20, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Gerrard was only as good in the ‘hole’ because Xabi Alonso was behind him to link play. When can we stop thinking that this is an individual game and realize that even the best of players can only flourish when the others aeound them are playing their roles with the same class?

  3. brn442

    September 20, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    An extended break? So you want Torres to come back a month (or two)from now, even further away from being match fit and match sharp? Please come back over to common sense.

    • Scott Alexander

      September 21, 2010 at 4:06 pm

      Running out a hurt tired Torres makes no sense. Liverpool aren’t going to make a run at the title, they aren’t going to make Champion’s League, and they aren’t going to get relegated so why devalue Torres even further? It’s not good for him and it is not in the club’s long term interests. Either get him back to health for a run at 2011-12 with new ownership or work on getting his transfer fee up to something that changes Liverpool’s fortunes.

  4. Sir Guy

    September 20, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    “….this is indicative of the apparent need for character-centric narratives for much of the English press.”

    Don’t blame it on the English. Have you ever checked the US press after an NFL Sunday? Ha!

    “Perhaps the solution is give Torres an extended break, perhaps for a month or two, in order to recharge his batteries.”

    And watch Liverpool sink even further? Granted, Torres is not “himself” right now, but who the hell fears N’Gog????

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