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No time for No 9 Fernando Torres to shine

No time for No 9 Fernando Torres to shine

By Phil Shaw
Last Updated: 1:11am BST 24/09/2007

Liverpool (0) 0 Birmingham City (0) 0

Maik Taylor could have been forgiven if he had arrived at Anfield with a tin hat packed alongside his gloves. The last time he had stepped into the front line against Liverpool, in an FA Cup tie at Birmingham 18 months earlier, the ball flashed past him on seven occasions.

There was every reason for Taylor to fear the worst. Liverpool had won their previous home game 6-0 against Derby, when the £26 million Fernando Torres convinced The Kop that they possessed the latest forward in the line from St John through Dalglish to Fowler.

No time for No 9 Fernando Torres to shine
Too little, too late: Fernando Torres was, once again, rested for the majority of the game by Rafael Benitez

The Birmingham goalkeeper's relief was therefore considerable when he learned that Torres was back on the bench. He still had to face Andriy Voronin and Dirk Kuyt, yet he regarded the former teenage prodigy as "the main man".

"We were certainly pleased he wasn't playing," Taylor revealed, words that should give Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez food for thought. "Taking nothing away from the other lads, but when the team-sheet came in and Torres wasn't starting, it gave us a lift."

When Liverpool's record signing finally appeared, Taylor confessed to thinking, "Here we go". But Torres, accustomed to being the primary focus of attack with Atletico Madrid and Spain, is no Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – able to slip seamlessly into the fray as a substitute.

Although he came close with a bicycle kick and set up Peter Crouch for a chance snuffed out by Stephen Kelly's fine challenge, Taylor was able to say the words few visiting custodians have uttered down the decades at Anfield: "I was surprised by how little I had to do."


After Benitez delivered Champions League glory in his first season, critics of his squad-rotation policy vowed to stop complaining. More than two years on, the rumble of dissent was audible around L4.

The Liverpool manager justified his handling of Torres by explaining that he expected Birmingham to defend deep, thereby reducing the space for his pacy compatriot to burst into, and by stressing the importance of keeping players fresh.

While Benitez clearly knows their physical and mental limits better than his critics, it is hard to imagine Sir Alex Ferguson holding Wayne Rooney in reserve. By the time freshness becomes a factor in Liverpool's favour, they may have been cut adrift.

The Carling Cup tie at Reading tomorrow is a more appropriate stage for resting personnel. Steven Gerrard, for one, needs a break after a jaded display that vindicated his manager's displeasure at his playing twice for England while less than fully fit. But then, given that Torres started the midweek match at Porto, maybe Benitez sets a higher store by Champions League success than on the title.

Steve Bruce's aim is to win a different league, the one comprising the six to eight clubs the Birmingham manager believes will be "lurking around the bottom". He may be underplaying the potential of this youthful side, who stretched his unbeaten league record against Benitez to five games. Crucially, they maintained shape and discipline after the early loss of another Spaniard, Borja Oubina, to a cruciate knee injury.


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