James Lawton: Stellar show by faithful Torres eclipses Ronaldo's self-service

Was it really just that Rafa Benitez picked up Sir Alex Ferguson, put him in his pocket, and administered the mother of all tactical tours de force? Or could it also have been of some significance that Cristiano Ronaldo, the reigning world player of the year, was at times made to look like an inconsequential bit player beside his potential successor Fernando Torres?

Naturally, given all the previous, the Benitez-Ferguson issue had most play, and certainly it is true that the master of Anfield's deployment of both Torres and Steven Gerrard achieved a remarkable coup in the disintegration, for a day at least, of Nemanja Vidic.

But then we can go only so far with Benitez versus Ferguson, partly because the Liverpool manager, except for urging potential allies to attack the centre of United's defence with as much resource as they can muster for the rest of the season, largely resisted the urge to give back some of the recent ridicule aimed at him by the Old Trafford commander.

Their rival achievements and strengths are well enough established to override any sweeping conclusions based on a single match between the teams, including the theory that Vidic has necessarily been diminished to the point that he is no longer one of his team's greatest strengths but suddenly a most glaring weakness.

Less speculative is the fact that Benitez has in Torres a brilliant centrepiece to all his hopes while Ferguson in Ronaldo does not. Certainly not for so much of a season which some expected to be nothing so much as an extended coronation; nor, on current evidence, in the foreseeable future.

No doubt there will be cries that this is harsh, especially when it is remembered that Ronaldo headed United beautifully into a secure position against Internazionale and then nosed United into the lead against Liverpool.

Yes, there is some danger of over-simplification, not least in the fact that if Torres received magnificent support from such as Gerrard and Javier Mascherano, Ronaldo was not exactly surrounded by optimum performance from his team-mates, either against Internazionale or Liverpool. Indeed, if you wanted to define United despair at the end of a week of considerable dishevelment it was probably the sight of Michael Carrick, arguably their most influential player this season, being withdrawn from the challenge of breaking down a Liverpool defence which had allegedly become slow enough to be charged with loitering.

However, there can be no dispute about the fact that against Real Madrid and United, Torres was nothing less than luminous as he made Fabio Cannavaro, Italy's captain and the man of the 2006 World Cup, look old and distraught, and then proceeded to undermine so severely the Player of the Year candidacy of Vidic. This was not so much a surge of form as confirmation of both superb talent and a burning competitive spirit.

Among his other woes, Ferguson could only have yearned for even hints of such commitment from his own superstar.

In a few weeks of fragile fitness Torres has become a fierce disciple of Benitez's cause. He wears a Liverpool heart on his sleeve, while, it it is difficult not to conclude, Ronaldo mostly sports one kind of advertisement or another for himself. Ferguson will no doubt bridle at this suggestion as much as the one that Benitez took him to the strategic and tactical cleaners, but the belief here is that it will be with less justification.

Whatever the undoubted cleverness of Benitez's work in Europe, where he twice left the messiah Jose Mourinho resorting to nothing more resourceful than long balls, he has never before been close to Ferguson's supreme quality of investing unbridled faith in his players.

This was most startling about Liverpool's eruption against both Real and United. Neither triumph was, whatever Benitez's most fervent admirers say, primarily about tactical pragmatism. They were the fruit of players operating at the peak of their powers. Torres and to an almost equal extent, Gerrard, played with a wonderful freedom and while Benitez can fairly claim that he has not often enough had both men available at the same time, there is also no great case for him, as there is for Ferguson, as a coach with an instinct for taking away the leash – at least until now.

For Ferguson the agony last week was the underperformance of players he has nurtured so relentlessly. While Torres flew, Ronaldo mostly fluttered. Yes, there are some considerable points to be made in defence of Ronaldo. In every game he attracts small battalions of markers. His physical resilience is remarkable, and, a glance at their records tells you, far more so than the injury-prone Spaniard. He remains, with the possible exception of Wayne Rooney, the United player most likely to produce a sublime intervention, as we saw last week when the two of them combined to snuff out the rising hopes of Mourinho.

So where is the most pressing point of comparison? It is in the sense of Torres' commitment, of a determination to inflict all that he has for the benefit of the team.

Torres and Gerrard are at present emitting it from their very pores. Lionel Messi, along with blinding virtuosity, is doing the same on behalf of Barcelona. But Ronaldo is not and this, surely, gives Ferguson quite as much concern as the fact that Vidic went missing for a day.

Ronaldo's absence, after all, has been rather more protracted – a fact illuminated by nothing so much as the passion of Fernando Torres.

Pressures of modern life no justification for rabid hatred

My colleague Sam Wallace's vivid update yesterday of the level of hatred now so commonplace on the terraces of English football deserves a better reward than the one I suspect is even now heading his way.

Unless I'm much mistaken, it is a chiding letter from a lady academic who insists that, far from being a matter for censure, even the most rabid rivalry of fans is healthy ballast for them to carry through the pressures of modern life.

I learnt this after reporting on the occasion when the then Manchester United player Alan Smith broke his leg horribly at Anfield – an occasion marked by cries of glee from the terraces and, it was reported later, attempts to obstruct the ambulance taking him to hospital.

Earlier there had been the traditional chants about Hillsborough and the Munich air crash, and before that an incident which was as bizarre as it was appalling.

Some Liverpool fans were diverted from paying their respects at the grotto dedicated to the victims of Hillsborough by the sight of United fans, flanked by police, being marched into the ground. Mourning for Hillsborough broke up amid shouts of "Munich scum".

All this seemed to be something of a mockery of the idea of sport. Soon enough, the chastisement came in. What is needed, apparently, is a proper grasp of the dynamics of British life.

The trick, apparently, is to look below the surface and see the real meaning of such behaviour. It is about the exerting of self-worth, of providing a valuable edge to the monotony of the daily round.

If you happen to be wondering, the message came via email, not a man in a white coat.

Khan must stop playing the name game if he wants world crown

Amir Khan looked a lot better at the weekend. Only once did he offer his chin to Marco Antonio Barrera, a mistake that was swiftly followed by an expression of severe regret and some work that showed the clear influence of his excellent new American trainer Freddie Roach. Under such a man, it may be possible for Khan to avoid the worst implications of being unable to take a serious punch on the chin.

However, it was clear that in serious terms the fight was virtually meaningless even before a clash of heads left a gash in Barrera's forehead that required not so much an inspired cuts man as an industrial sewing machine. Barrera, a truly great fighter in his long time-expired prime, looked old, fought old, and could do next to nothing to provide the "test" for which he was ostensibly hired.

Barrera wasn't a test. He was a name. This, of course, didn't stop one leading bookmaker offering 6-4 against Khan being crowned a world champion before the end of this year. This represents, we are told, the fighter's ascent to the "next level". No, it doesn't represent that at all. It is the grievous exploitation of the reputation of a fighter who no longer exists.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?