Benitez set to ask Torres to play through the pain

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The Independent Online

Rafael Benitez has indicated that the discomfort Fernando Torres experienced after his performance against Lyons last week has receded, allowing him to "carry on with the pain" against Birmingham City at Anfield tonight.

Benitez knows that anything but victory this evening will only intensify the debilitating sense of crisis washing around Anfield. That is why, with 12 days ahead to rest his main asset, Benitez seems ready to reject suggestions that the three weeks' total rest that Valencia clinicians have recommended should see Torres out of the side. "What can you do when [they] say 'rest'?" Benitez said. "It's not just [him staying] in bed. He will not play if he doesn't go [away] with Spain [to face Argentina in Madrid next Saturday], so he can just keep working with the physios. It's our decision if he plays against Birmingham or not. He is feeling better than he was before."

Despite the advice from Valencia – which Spanish sources suggest Torres only sought after Liverpool's medics suggested the 25-year-old needed surgery – Benitez insisted he did not risk exacerbating Torres' inguinal hernia. A clinician, he said, had "explained all of the different scenarios to me and it's not a problem. If we decide to play him it's because it will be good for the team and not a big problem for the player. We know 100 per cent it's not a problem." Two goals tonight would make Torres the fastest Liverpool player to 50 goals for the club, by reaching the target in 68 games, 12 fewer than Albert Stubbins and Sam Raybould.

Benitez, who is without the suspended Jamie Carragher and Phillip Degan, admitted he had also "pushed" Steven Gerrard towards his first appearance since his adductor muscle strain saw him limp out of action three weeks ago. "We needed to push him a bit and he was not fully fit and we have to wait and see what happens the next time." But Gerrard's prospects of anything other than a place on Liverpool's bench look slimmer than those of Torres, against the only current Premier League team Benitez has never beaten.

The manager badly needs Glen Johnson to have recovered from his calf injury, with every other right back injured or suspended, though there is comfort of sorts in that Birmingham, undefeated in six against Liverpool, have scored only eight goals all season – fewer than any other in England bar League Two's Darlington.

Ryan Babel may get a chance, with £20m Alberto Aquilani not ready to step up to a Premier League start. "Maybe we will have to play him for 45 minutes against Birmingham," Benitez said of Aquilani. "We need to go one step at a time. He knows [the English game] it is more physical and the pace of the game is different."

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