By Mark Ogden
29 September 2007
Fernando Torres has only been a Liverpool player for three months, yet he has already learned not to attempt to second guess the team selection of manager Rafael Benitez.
Four days after scoring his first hat-trick in a Liverpool shirt during the 4-2 Carling Cup victory at Reading, the Spanish forward will have to wait until 1.55pm today before discovering whether he has done enough to retain his place when Benitez pins his starting eleven on the board for the Premier League encounter with Wigan Athletic at the JJB Stadium.
Torres, the £26.5m summer signing from Atletico Madrid, has made a seamless transition to life in the Premiership having previously spent his entire career in La Liga, but the club's record signing is not safe from Benitez's tinkering.
Benitez is understood to be preparing for Torres to partner Dirk Kuyt this afternoon, but having omitted the 23-year-old from his team against Birmingham City last Saturday, when Steve Bruce's team emerged from Anfield with a 0-0 draw, nothing can be taken for granted.
Last Saturday's team selection, strongly criticised by supporters, appeared to backfire with Liverpool failing to score for a second successive league game. But Benitez insists that he has no regrets over his decision and that it was a statement of Liverpool's intent this season.
Benitez said: "As a manager, you need to see the bigger picture and think about the whole season. If we need to use our big names in every game at Anfield against teams like Birmingham, then maybe we won't be good enough to win trophies at the end of the season. If you say to me that I would have had to play Torres to be capable of beating Birmingham, then I'd say that we couldn't win the league.
"Sometimes I will make mistakes, but I was 100 per cent sure it wasn't a mistake not to play Torres against Birmingham. Kuyt and [Andriy] Voronin had been playing well, and at home at Anfield against Birmingham, I thought we had enough to win.
"Why are we talking about Torres now and weren't when Kuyt and Voronin were scoring in the Champions League? The answer is because we were winning those games. We're only talking about Torres not playing because we drew with Portsmouth and Birmingham."
Unbeaten so far this season, Liverpool have made their best start since Benitez's arrival from Valencia three years ago. Although Liverpool have finished strongly in each of their last three seasons, which two Champions League Finals and an FA Cup win underline, Benitez's reluctance to play a settled team in the early months has not helped the club's league form.
The Spaniard appears to have found the correct blend this year, but he insists that April and May, and not August and September, are the months that matter.
Benitez said: "I've done the same for seven years now and we've been winning trophies. The last 10 games of the season are probably the most important and you won't win anything if your players aren't physically ready.
"Torres can play 20 or 30 games in a row without any problem, but he won't be at the same level in the last few months of the season when we hope to be playing for trophies.
"We've played a final at the end of each season I've been here. Why? Because we've had a big squad without maybe as many bigger players as we have now, and were going into games with fresh legs. That proves that the system can work."