As someone who has scored in each of his last three appearances against Manchester United, the concern about Fernando Torres's form and fitness extends beyond tonight's Europa League opener against Steaua Bucharest.
Just as Sir Alex Ferguson dramatically and ineffectually reshuffled his side before Tuesday's goalless draw with Rangers to keep his squad fresh for Liverpool's arrival at Old Trafford, so Roy Hodgson is likely to regard Steaua as a mere aperitif.
The Liverpool manager was angered by comments that Torres looked punch drunk at Birmingham on Sunday. To Robbie Savage, commentating on radio for the BBC, the Spaniard's body language suggested an "uninterested" footballer. In the Sky camp, Jamie Redknapp, a one-time Liverpool captain, described his display as "diabolical".
Torres is unlikely to face a Steaua side that, whatever their history – Hodgson said during his press conference at Anfield that Steaua had won 44 Romanian trophies – finished fourth in the league. However, Hodgson pointed out that Torres was keen to play and his display at St Andrews had as much to do with being asked to fly to Buenos Aires by the Spanish FA to take part in a friendly against Argentina than anything else.
"I think it is wrong to try to read someone's state of mind after 90 minutes of football," Hodgson said. "You would have to be some wonder psychologist to do that. I have never been able to watch someone play and tell you what state of mind they are in.
"Torres is a front player. They are either heroes or villains. Against West Brom, Torres was a hero. A game later and he is the villain. Pepe Reina was the villain against Arsenal. Against Birmingham he won us a point. Torres is in good mental shape. He'll be happy to play if I want him to play but whether I want him to play is another question."
Hodgson said he would be repeating Ferguson's experiment of withdrawing his leading players for a European night, adding he found it strange that a manager should be criticised more for losing with a reshuffled side than with a team that he stuck with. "It is up to us as managers to make sure decisions are not taken out of fear of what people might say," he said.
Liverpool should back themselves to progress without Torres or Steven Gerrard. Steaua may have reached two European Cup finals but they have struggled to make any impact since the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu, a decline that has accelerated since Gigi Becali became club president. Becali has run through 11 managers in seven years and even once appointed himself.
His latest choice is Ilie Dumitrescu, once of Tottenham, who according to the president asked for one leu (around 20p) to become manager. The details of the severance clause in his contract – something Dumitrescu is likely to require sooner rather than later – was not revealed.
Liverpool (probable 4-2-3-1) Reina; Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Agger, Konchesky; Poulsen, Meireles; Pacheco, Cole, Babel; Ngog.
Steaua Bucharest (probable 4-4-2) Tatarusanu; Emeghara, Abrudan, Geraldo, Latovlevici; Radut, Angelov, Apostol, Tanase; Stancu, Kapetanos.
Referee C Fernandez (Spain).Reuse content