Hodgson ready to unleash Torres and Gerrard

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The Independent Online

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson hopes a fully-refreshed Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard will provide the spearhead for victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.

The pair were left out of last night's Europa League 4-1 win over Steaua Bucharest along with a number of first-choice players as the Reds boss made eight changes in an attempt to give his side the best chance at Old Trafford.

Hodgson admits the match between the two north-west rivals has come earlier in the season than he would have wished but, by giving his star players maximum rest, the 62-year-old is confident they can put in a good performance.

But he maintains that will be down to the players on the day as despite all his preparation only they can affect the outcome on the pitch.

Most of the focus will be on Torres after his display in last Sunday's goalless draw at Birmingham was criticised in many quarters.

The Spain striker has enjoyed a fruitful time at Old Trafford in the past, scoring on his last three visits and terrorising centre-back Nemanja Vidic on a number of occasions.

However, Hodgson does not read too much into past results - which may be a good thing as his record against United with Fulham was not that good.

"I give it no credence, none at all," said Hodgson in response to Torres' record against United.

"But let's hope on Sunday we see a great performance from him. He is Fernando Torres - he is going to have bad games and wonder games.

"As far as I'm concerned you don't swing between wonder and hopeless. Either you are a good player or you are not and he is a very good player.

"But like all good players he will have games where people will say 'We expected more of you, we thought you could have done better' and that was probably the case against Birmingham.

"It will be the case again on many occasions this year but the point is he is a very good player and we are going to get an awful lot of benefit from his services because good players remain good players."

Hodgson admits he has no idea whether his decision to rest key players yesterday will pay off.

It did against Steaua but that provides no pointer to future success, as the manager has learned from experience.

"I did it once at Fulham last season when I rested virtually the whole team when we went to CSKA Sofia with a reserve team," he said.

"We came back and got beat by Wolves and I didn't think we looked very fresh or sharp.

"But you know you can't burn out players playing three matches a week, week after week, especially when some of those matches are after international trips.

"Don't forget Torres only came back from Argentina on Thursday to play on Sunday last week.

"You have to make decisions whereby you say 'I think it will be in this player's interest to rest' and 'This player will be fresher and better equipped to play on Sunday if he misses Thursday's game'.

"Now whether that actually happens or not who knows? We don't have a crystal ball and you make decisions on the basis of what should happen but it doesn't always happen."

Matches against United are always used as a barometer of how good the current Liverpool side are, considering they have not won a league championship since 1990 allowing their arch-rivals to draw level with their record tally of 18.

Hodgson, though, will not be judging his squad on the outcome of one game - no matter how big an occasion it is.

"It is a difficult encounter always but it is a game which has thrilled people throughout the years and let's hope it is no different at the weekend," he said.

"There is no point in me or Alex (Ferguson) trying to build up the game because it has been built up anyway; all we can do is get on with it and hope our teams are well prepared on the field and our players perform.

"The result will be very important. This is going to be an even league, more than half the table is currently separated by a point or two.

"But it is going to be a long haul for everyone this season before you get into a position where you hope you will end up.

"Games of this magnitude coming so early in our time here are not exactly ideal but I'm hoping we will give it our best shot and see what the game brings."

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