Ruthless Torres 'back to his best' to demolish Chelsea

Liverpool manager hails his striker as questions remain about London club's away form
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The Independent Online

Roy Hodgson last night pronounced Fernando Torres back to his best after the Spaniard's two goals and substantial all-round performance condemned Chelsea to a 2-0 defeat which confirmed doubts about their performances away from Stamford Bridge.

Torres – whose two immaculate first-half finishes take his tally against Chelsea to five goals in seven games in all competitions and may prompt Ancelotti to question why he has persistently declared no interest in him becoming a Chelsea player – has born the brunt of unjustifiable criticism, Hodgson said. "He's taken his fair share of criticism, some of which has been exaggerated and not deserved. People will now say he's back to his best. Let's hope that's the case – certainly today it was."

Even short of full fitness and with a groin strain during the past month compounding a catalogue of injuries dating to before the World Cup, Torres had provided the winning goals in two home games before yesterday but believes he has not yet reached the peak of his fitness. "I don't know if I can play in my best soon, but I hope I will be playing my best. It's part of life as a footballer, being criticised," Torres said. "Everyone watches every game at a team like Liverpool. Everything you do is around the world a minute later. I know the expectation and I want to fight hard to get my top form."

Ancelotti, whose side are only two points clear of Manchester United, acknowledged that the better side won at Anfield and could at least take comfort from a strong second-half rally, which is more than Arsenal showed in their anaemic 1-0 home to defeat to Newcastle United. Only Manchester City among the top four clubs managed a win, with Mario Balotelli's two goals sealing a 2-0 win at West Bromwich Albion before he was sent off.

Ancelotti, forced to start with Didier Drogba on the bench because the striker had been suffering a fever on Saturday, refused to accept that his side, who have taken four points from their last four away games and scored in only one of them, were vulnerable away from west London. The lead at the top being reduced was "normal," he said. "We know it would be impossible, very difficult, to improve our lead here," declared Ancelotti, who will again be without Frank Lampard for Fulham's visit on Wednesday, although he hopes the midfielder will be available for Sunderland next Sunday.

"We have to stay focused and not be worried. Also, even with a defeat, our momentum is still good. We have to look forward to the next game against Fulham. We are still in a better position compared to the other teams."

Hodgson's side are ninth, and although Ancelotti insisted they are top-four material this season, the Liverpool manager was sanguine when asked if the win – his first in the Premier League over Chelsea at the seventh attempt – was a breakthrough after the recent ups and downs.

"What ups are you talking about? The most enjoyable day was the day I signed [at Anfield.] It's been all downhill since," he said. And to the suggestion that loud music was playing in Liverpool's rooms, he joked: "That must be some discotheque nearby."

But Hodgson, who was forced to play 20-year-old Martin Kelly at right-back after losing Sotirios Kyrgiakos to severe tonsilitis and Glen Johnson, complaining of groin problems, yesterday morning, insisted Liverpool could beat any side.

"All teams are stoppable. This league shows that," he said. "There are no 'given' results. You look at matches before they're played and you think it's likely to end one way and then that's turned on its head. All the teams are well-organised, so what you're looking for is that extra bit of quality. Today we had that from Fernando Torres and that won us the game, alongside a very disciplined performance from everyone else.

"I'll enjoy ninth for a little while but, in this league, you can go back to 16th just as quickly. The squad is looking pretty small at the moment with the injuries and sickness. If we can get through the next two without too much pain, then who knows? But it's a long season. We're 11 games in, not even a third of the way in, and I prefer to keep my feet on the ground.

"Torres has been good in training for the last month. I've said that on several occasions. He's shown signs of good performance. Would you be praising his performance if it had ended 0-0 and he'd missed the same chances? I wonder if he'd get the same praise. I can ask a question from time to time can't I? I spend my whole life bloody answering them."

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