Liverpool's miserable season has been capped by confirmation that Fernando Torres will not play again this campaign, with the Spaniard having undergone a second operation last night on the right knee which kept him out for six weeks in the winter.
Torres' desire to get the knee assessed quickly, having experienced pain which suggested that January's operation on a torn cartilage had not been entirely successful, led him to travel to Barcelona by road and rail to see his consultant on Saturday. He succeeded in overcoming the limitations on travel created by the effects of the volcanic eruption in Iceland and reached Dr Ramon Cugat. But the prognosis from the surgeon, who drained fluid from the 26-year-old's knee last week, was that the meniscus has been torn and a second operation was needed.
Liverpool, who have slipped to seventh in the Premier League and find themselves fighting for a top-six place when West Ham visit Anfield this evening, confirmed last night that Torres was likely to be out of action for another six-week period. That rules him out of the Liverpool set-up until next season and destroys the slim hopes he had of an emotional return to his old club Atletico Madrid for the Europa League semi-final scheduled for Thursday. It also casts grave doubt on his participation in Spain's World Cup campaign.
There has been frequent contact over the past few weeks between Liverpool and Fernando Hierro, Spain's technical director, with Rafael Benitez harbouring some hopes that Torres might be available to him for the run-in, despite the obvious discomfort the striker felt when he jarred the knee during the second leg of Liverpool's Europa League quarter-final against Benfica. The difficult decision for Spain's manager, Vicente del Bosque, who will closely monitor the player's recuperation, is whether to include him on Spain's 23-man list for South Africa.
The news would have been harder to swallow were Liverpool's pursuit of a top-four place not effectively over. Instead, the news has perhaps most relevance domestically to Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea, who may find themselves needing a win at Anfield on 1 May if they are to overcome Manchester United's dogged pursuit of them at the top of the table. Torres' form at Anfield has reached historic proportions since he returned from the initial lay-off and threw himself back into Liverpool's season. The Spaniard has scored 49 goals in 59 home games for Liverpool and his two goals in the second leg against Benfica made him the first Liverpool player to net twice in four consecutive home games. The revelation that the initial knee operation was not entirely successful sheds new light on Benitez's decision to substitute him in the 1-1 draw at Birmingham four days before his side beat Benfica. Though his absence offers another chance to David Ngog, Liverpool are a shadow of themselves without Torres.
Uefa will decide today whether the Atletico Madrid fixture is to go ahead amid the chaos created by the Icelandic situation.