WEST BROMWICH ALBION 0
“Being brutally honest they haven’t brought any top-class players in to replace the ones they have sold. They haven’t tried to improve the squad. Nando deserves to be playing with the best players like he does with Spain. If Liverpool have another disappointing season that will be it for him. Our coach Pep Guardiola is a big admirer of Nando. If he wanted to leave next summer I would imagine Barcelona to be very much in the running.”
As Arsene Wenger will testify, Barcelona’s players are hardly subtle when it comes to discussing which fellow Spaniards they’d like to see join them at the Nou Camp. However, Xavi’s words should not be discounted as mere wishful thinking. Torres is a world-class player who really does need to be playing at the highest level, and despite the loyalty he has displayed towards his Anfield employers, one suspects that he will not settle for life outside of the Champion’s League for too much longer. Liverpool need to reach the top four this season if they want to keep hold of Torres, and on the evidence of today’s game, they will need the Spaniard more than ever if they are to get there.
In the last week Liverpool have limped to defeat against Man City and flirted with disaster against Trabzonspor, and the tactical and technical deficiencies displayed in each of these games were evident again yesterday, especially in the first half. The Reds were disjointed and laboured in possession, toothless going forward, and far from convincing at the back. Gerrard attempted almost obsessively to link up with Torres, without much luck, and Poulsen and Lucas made for a static and cumbersome central midfield pairing. Meanwhile, Jovanovic and Kuyt – neither of whom are natural wingers – struggled to make an impact on the flanks. Indeed, despite seeing less of the ball, visitors West Brom had the better of the chances in the first half.
Things improved marginally in the second period, and there was a palpable sigh of relief when Torres lashed home a volley in the 65th minute. Things got easier for the Reds after that – the Spaniard nearly netted a second, and was probably unlucky not to win a penalty later in the game. However, Torres’ touch of class glossed over what was a very ordinary display from Liverpool, against a side who, in their last away outing at Stamford Bridge, conceded six. Three points are three points, and a first league win of the season can only help boost confidence, but Roy Hodgson still has a lot to think on during the international break.
Ultimately, taken as a whole, the game was compelling evidence that Liverpool are still over-reliant on their talented Spaniard. Without his sublime strike midway through the second-half, there’s a good chance that the Reds would not have taken all three points – and even a player as talented as Torres cannot be expected to reproduce such heroics every week. Hodgson’s new signings, Raul Meireles and Paul Konchesky, watched from the stands yesterday. Liverpool fans up and down the country will be hoping that they can add enough quality to the side to ensure that Anfield remains an appealing place for Torres, and that, next summer Xavi’s not-inconceivable hopes don’t come to fruition.
2 Glen Johnson – 23 Carragher – 37 Skrtel – 5 Agger
18 – Kuyt – 28 Poulsen – 21 Lucas Leiva – 14 Jovanovic
58 – 17 Maxi Rodriguez on for 14 Jovanovic
88 – 19 Babel on for 9 Torres