Torres' Atletico return in doubt

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The Independent Online

Liverpool fear they will be without Fernando Torres for a minimum 10 days because of a hamstring strain.

If final medical reports confirm the club's worries, their top-scoring striker will miss Saturday's Barclays Premier League match against Wigan, next week's trip to face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and the following Sunday's crunch fixture at Chelsea.

Torres limped out of Spain's World Cup qualifier with Belgium last night.

Initially the Spanish camp suggested he may miss just a few days, but Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is bracing himself for bad news.

He said today: "I am very disappointed about this, because it now looks like we will lose Fernando for three very important games.

"We have Wigan at home and Chelsea away in the league and Atletico Madrid away in the Champions League, so to lose any players is a big blow.

"The initial reports say Fernando is likely to be out for around 10 days, and that would mean he would miss these games."

Liverpool lost Torres for a spell last season after an injury on international duty, and Benitez is a firm supporter of a system that would see players involved in fewer games for their country.

He said: "There are too many international games, and the demands on the players are too much. Someone needs to analyse this situation, because it is putting the players at risk of injury.

"Maybe the answer is for there to be a two-tier qualifying system, because there are too many games in the qualifiers for the World Cup and the European Championships which are not competitive but which still place great demands on the players.

"These fixtures are unnecessary, and maybe it would be better if the weaker countries played one another and the best of them went to play the stronger countries in the qualifiers."

Benitez's mood was further darkened by Ryan Babel's injury in Holland's qualifier against Norway.

The winger hurt his ankle in a heavy tackle by Blackburn's Morten Gamst Pedersen but has yet to be examined by club doctors.

With two key players out, Benitez wants his squad to show the strength witnessed against Manchester United - when victory was secured without the injured Torres and Steven Gerrard.

He said: "It is important that we show our strength at times like this.

"We cannot do anything about the injuries, so it is up to the players to come in and do a good job if they are needed."

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