Torres ticks all boxes of striker in supreme form

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The Independent Online

Fact: Fernando Torres is the finest striker in world football on current form. It just wasn't the one that Manchester United supporters would have chosen to scribble last night on to the blank Fact Sheet that Manchester United's Red Issue fanzine had helpfully provided, with Rafa Benitez's January outburst in mind, for those "feeling the pressure at work" and "in need of a handy aid for your failing memory".

Torres is an individual whose display will live long in the memory here, with United's own failed pursuit of the player before Benitez picked up the telephone and drew on his nationality to hire him in the summer of 2007 just another reason for despair today.

It is not just the Spaniard's pace, composure and vision which raise Liverpool's level but the way he drives the entire side on, remarkable in a 24-year-old in only his second English season.

What complexion would it have taken had Torres and Steven Gerrard played a fuller part together? The two have an exquisite understanding but have started only nine games together this season, Torres hamstrung and limited to 16 out of Liverpool's 29 League games.

"These two players are key for us when they are on the pitch," Benitez reflected last night. "The rest of the team has confidence if you can play both of them. It makes a massive difference. When you don't have one of them it's a big loss."

As has so often been the case during the course of his career, Gerrard took some time yester-day to make an impact on Old Trafford, a ground at which he had not scored on 15 occasions. Last season, as Liverpool plunged to a demoralising 3-0 Old Trafford defeat, Torres laboured too. His irritation earned him a booking that day, beginning a chain of events which culminated in Javier Mascherano being sent off.

Yesterday, Torres picked up directly where he had left off against Real Madrid five days ago. Rio Ferdinand's answer to his threat was something they used to call obstruction; purposefully turning his back on the advancing whirl of grey and waiting for a collision to happen. He got away with it. Vidic, whose form was opening a debate on the merits of defenders being named as candidates for the Player of the Season, had no such answers. He was pulverised by Torres in a way which may take him some time to recover from.

Torres's goal – the Spaniard's right boot nudging past Vidic a ball sent up from Martin Skrtel which the Serbian had lost in flight – was just the start.

A few minutes later, Torres caught Vidic square on and slipped the ball through his legs; then he headed a ball past him which Ferdinand had to tidy up.

The particular telepathy between Torres and Gerrard has been evident for many weeks. Many a time before Robbie Keane left Liverpool he would shake his head forlornly after one of the two had sought out the other with a ball, instead of him. Torres it was who played through the Liverpool captain and let him show pace that was too much for Patrice Evra, who ploughed Gerrard down for a penalty.

The die was cast after that. As Benitez outlined on Friday, going ahead is everything for Liverpool, and Benitez could fully implement his strategy of denying United space between the lines.

But Torres and Gerrard still looked capable of cutting through United's central defence at will, and Vidic's dismissal, by no means a turning point in the match and with Gerrard clear to shoot, looked like a blessing for him.

Most of Gerrard's 28 years have been spent in reveries of Liverpool's supporters shouting "We want five" at Old Trafford and he radiated delight.

"To score a goal after all the stick I've had here in the last 10 years is nice," he said. "We have to keep going to win games," Torres reminded him.

The inability of any side bar Liverpool and Arsenal to defeat United this season suggests that Benitez still needs a miracle, but with these two forces of nature at his disposal there is good reason for the neutrals to study the top of the Premier League of a Sunday morning for a few more weeks yet.

The goalkeeper who recently went 1,300 minutes without conceding had just let four in, so for once Benitez's analysis is one everyone can understand. "It's football," he said. "So anything can happen."

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