They called him "El Nino" in Spain and, for a while last night, Fernando Torres did look like a kid. Dumped to the turf by Mathieu Flamini, complaining about Philippe Senderos's challenge and then out-muscled by William Gallas. But it is a nickname that the 24-year-old has outgrown.
Some of that may be due to the fact that, in Steven Gerrard, he has got a big brother to protect and provide for him and that, at Liverpool, he is now playing for a bigger club than Atletico Madrid who he left last summer for that big fee. The rest is down to his sheer talent and application. But the effectiveness of the partnership between Torres and Gerrard, and the outstanding goal return of the former, had dominated much of the build-up to this encounter.
The Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, said that Torres was the key and, if he is, then Gerrard is the man who turns that key in the lock. The beauty of the way that Benitez has decided to deploy the pair was plain to see last night. "He has an eye to see the line of pass and my run at the same time," Torres has said of Gerrard and that was brilliantly evident.
With Torres as the lone striker and Gerrard in the centre of the three advanced midfielders behind him, it presented Arsenal with a problem that they were slow to deal with. Neither Cesc Fabregas nor Flamini seemed willing or able to shadow Gerrard. As the Liverpool captain was playing more as a second striker, maybe they did not feel it was their duty. But picking him up would then fall to one of the centre-halves – and if either Gallas or Senderos advanced forward it would leave the other one against one against Torres. Which wasn't what they wanted.
And so it was when Liverpool equalised. Arsenal were caught on the counter, Gerrard, who was unmarked, Torres and Ryan Babel broke away. The Spaniard slipped a short pass and Gerrard skilfully constructed Dirk Kuyt's goal.
Moments later Torres was, again, fouled. Gerrard took the free-kick and cleverly drove the ball beyond the far post – to where Torres had ghosted away unmarked. It was a suicidal moment for Arsenal but, fortunately for them, was not capitalised upon.
By now Torres and Gerrard were combining so sharply that the watching Franco Baldini, the right-hand man of England manager Fabio Capello, must have, again, wished that this was the way Gerrard and Wayne Rooney had played in Paris last week.
England's first-half formation against France was the same as Liverpool's last night and the way in which the Premier League team played showed not only that it can work but just how dependent it is on a combination like Gerrard and Torres. Given England already have one-half of that partnership, it is incumbent on Rooney to play, as Gerrard suggested, a bit more like Torres – or perhaps for the Manchester United man to go out to one of the wide positions.
Whatever the Italian's thoughts, those of a Frenchman, Arsène Wenger, will have been dominated by his team's failure to deal with the obvious threat, in the first half in particular. Not that they were unaware of it as Torres's goals, 28 in 38 games and 11 in his last 10 matches, have reignited the hopes of Liverpool supporters that they are witnessing another special European campaign.
At times Torres and Gerrard look for each other like the two best players in a schoolboy team who are head and shoulders above the rest. But then the former is still called "The Kid", by some.Reuse content