18 September 2007

Torres can make up for lost time on the biggest stage


He may have been one of the hottest properties in Europe since breaking into his home-town team six years ago at the tender age of 17, but the Champions League is still new territory for Fernando Torres.
Liverpool's £26.5million striker has never featured in UEFA's showcase because his beloved Atletico Madrid failed to qualify in the six years he was there. He has arrived at Anfield to make up for lost time.
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Rafa Benitez left the Spain international out of the goalless draw at Portsmouth on Sunday but with Liverpool facing their toughest group phase task against FC Porto on Tuesday night, the manager is unlikely to tinker with his most potent strike-force and Torres is certain to start alongside Dutchman Dirk Kuyt.
Last season's defeated Champions League finalists have an abundance of European and world experience now, but Benitez will have no hesitation in turning to Torres as Liverpool look to end Porto's impressive home record of nine games undefeated against all the Premiership's top four.
Benitez said: 'The chance to show his talents in the Champions League was one of the reasons why Torres decided to come to a top side. He wanted to play in Europe at the highest level.
'Mentally, he is ready for this challenge. When you can play as well as he has done in the Premier League then you can play in Europe, no problems.
'He is only young, 23, but his problem was that he was in the Atletico Madrid team from the age of 17 and was waiting, waiting for them to get into the Champions League. Now he has the opportunity to show what he can do at this level.'
With two Champions League Finals to his name, Benitez is expected to deliver an extended European season for Liverpool's expectant supporters, who also want a sustained Premiership challenge.
Benitez did not disappoint them when he said: 'You must try to win all the trophies and then analyse the situation at the end of the season.
'In the first season we tried to get into the top four, won the Champions League and got to the Carling Cup Final with a squad full of lads.
'I still have a photo in my office of the team that took us to Cardiff and there were seven players from the reserves. You need to use your squad if you want to compete in four competitions but people can criticise you and there will be times you do make a mistake.
'The winning mentality should be to win every single game you play, not to think you have proved something by winning a title in the past. Our priority is the Premier League but that doesn't mean we don't want to win every other trophy we enter.
'We have the squad now to compete for both the Premier League and Champions League but we will only discover how strong it is during the season.'
Striker Kuyt believes Liverpool can win on more than one front. He said: 'If you want to win trophies you need four really good strikers. Good players play better with good players.
'We know we have a good enough squad to win the Champions League and the Premier League, although it's too early to focus on that.'
Despite losing Anderson to Manchester United and Pepe to Real Madrid, Porto coach Jesualdo Ferreira has started the season with four league wins out of four.
Having kept playmaker Ricardo Quaresma out of the clutches of Madrid, the former European champions represent a stern test for Liverpool, who travelled without Momo Sissoko and John Arne Riise.
Perhaps it was with this game in mind that the Liverpool manager was prepared to leave out Steven Gerrard at Portsmouth.
At least Gerrard will be fresh when he takes over the central midfield role from Xabi Alonso, who hobbled off at the start of training on Monday.
But Benitez still found himself defending his rotation policy last night, insisting it was necessary to cope with the demands of the season.
He said: 'I've been speaking to the players and some were really tired after travelling all over the world. You could lose a player for two months because he is tired and that would be worse than one game.
'Three games in a week is always difficult, so you have to use different players. But when all the players know the job they have to do, it is easier to change. Although, saying that, when you lose it seems the best players are always on the bench.
'I know there is more expectation on me because the squad is better. We have spent more money with the new owners this season, but we also clawed a lot back by selling.
'I heard someone say we were guaranteed to finish in the top four this season, but how can you say that? Others are improving and we must keep improving by working hard. We can't rest on our laurels. Now we have better players and when I change them around the difference is not so big.'


FC PORTO (4-3-3): Nuno; Bosingwa, Alves, Paulo, Fuchile; Assuncao, Lucho Gonzalez, Meireler; Fasias, Lisandro, Quaresma.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Arbeloa; Benayoun, Gerrard, Mascherano, Babel; Kuyt, Torres. Referee: Lubos Michel (Slovakia) TV: Live ITV1 (7.45 kick-off)

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