James Lawton: Torres lights up Anfield with his sheer brilliance
Wednesday 11 March 2009
Rafa Benitez no doubt mentioned it to all his players. It was time to lay down a little bit of intimidation, the kind that might reach into every corner of Europe. But then, who knows, he might have had a special word with Fernando Torres.
What isn't in doubt is that in the kind of form which washed like breaking surf over his old Madrid rivals Real here last night Torres could scare the life out of any team who happens to stand in Liverpool's path – even the one which threatens to dress them down at Old Trafford at the weekend.
Last summer Torres made the case for himself as the game's outstanding striker in Spain's European Championship triumph. Against Real, the former Atletico striker made a similar announcement.
At times it was delivered with such breathtaking force any hope of Real coach Juande Ramos that he could bring closure to the English nightmare that besieged him for so long when he was in charge of Tottenham was reduced to pathetic fantasy. Something rather more than this, you have to believe now, is Benitez's belief that he can rekindle a season that seemed as discouraging as a stamped-out fire when Manchester United took such a firm grip of the Premier League title race.
If the Liverpool manager's belief that he and his team receive too little respect for the consistency and weight of their presence in the Champions League is a wound that runs far deeper than some may have believed, this surely, was the best possible treatment.
Real were simply swept aside as Liverpool, with Torres making the point with exquisite emphasis, immediately established that what happened in the Bernabeu two weeks earlier was nothing so much as a statement of natural superiority.
Fabio Cannavaro, captain of Italy's World Cup winning team, is not so easily overwhelmed but within three minutes of the kick-off he and his equally over-run team-mate Pepe, were fighting desperately to stay alive.
It was the product of fluency and purpose that deserted Liverpool so critically at the formative stage of a season that had promised so much. Torres's opening goal, almost a crushing afterthought following some opening surges that brought terror to Real and sent that message of warning rather further afield, carried a sniff of controversy when he appeared to hold down a Real defender before recovering the ball and sweeping it past goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
However, there was not much question that Liverpool had taken possession of the game and the tie. Benitez's men, with an away goal in their pockets, were coasting through long before Steven Gerrard decided it was time to announce that there was, buried in Liverpool's quite recent past, such a thing as a long-lost hero.
Early in the second half Gerrard added to his first-half penalty strike a goal of immense power after Ryan Babel had swept powerfully down the left flank. The stadium erupted with that special force of a crowd who believe their team have re-encountered something that might just be the force of destiny.
This was shortly before Benitez began to withdraw, one by one, his crack troops. First it was Gerrard, then Torres, and as they left to thunderous applause it was perhaps necessary to wonder if Liverpool had indeed achieved something more than mere progress into the quarter finals of the Champions League.
Old Trafford will provide an early re-examination of a team who were plainly intent on making clear the extent of their still live ambition, but for the moment there was no questioning their force – and their coherence. Torres was the man of the night because of his extraordinary speed and the panache of his assault on a team that used to dominate his life along with the landscape of European football.
But there was much conviction and touch spread evenly through Liverpool. Javier Mascherano found himself booked for a foul he didn't commit – Xabi Alonso was the culprit – but in all else he was top of his every situation.
Gerrard also produced moments of killing authority but when Real Madrid left, crumpled and reduced probably to an equally forlorn pursuit of Barcelona in La Liga, inevitably their worst memory was of the kid who used to ambush them from his lair at Vicente Calderon Stadium.
Torres, of course, was the superstar who played for Madrid's wrong team. Here last night he looked perfectly at home in his environment. He was the centrepiece of a force which, who knows, might once again find a way of conquering Europe.
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