Rafael Benitez has told Fernando Torres that he has to learn to protect himself by avoiding confrontations with opposing defenders.
In the past, men such as John Terry have proved they can dig beneath Torres' skin and, facing a Stoke side who surpass even the Chelsea captain for ruggedness and physicality, the Liverpool manager has urged him to keep his cool at Anfield tonight.
"I have told him that he has to stop this," said the Liverpool manager, recalling Torres' verbal exchanges with defenders. "He knows he has to improve this aspect of his game and that the way forward is to respond to any intimidation by scoring. Sometimes, it is not easy to deal with everything opponents do, but he knows he must deal with it in a different way."
Anything that might undermine Torres' effectiveness is a concern at Anfield. Injury meant his contribution to what proved a sustained title challenge was a mere 14 goals – although they earned Liverpool a dozen points. However, in neither game against Stoke did a man who could claim to be Europe's finest striker find the net.
"In his first season, he was really focused and I think he will be again now," Benitez said. "But I don't think he is frustrated. He is a star now and defenders are really worried about him but that is part of his game these days."
When analysing Benitez's failure to secure a first title on Merseyside, those two goalless draws against Stoke and two more at home to Fulham and West Ham – teams that had respectively never won at Anfield and who had not done so since Bobby Moore captained the side – appear damning evidence. Benitez, however, disagreed. He thought Manchester United's dramatic recoveries against Aston Villa and Tottenham, the latter aided by what Benitez described as "that famous penalty", more significant.
However, after Sunday's collision between Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel, which left the latter with a cracked jaw, Benitez's most immediate concern is to find two fit centre-halves, with Daniel Agger likely to be unavailable for three weeks. Skrtel trained yesterday and may partner Carragher tonight but Benitez confessed he was looking for a cheap centre-half.
Reports that Benitez has at most £1.5m to spend in what remains of the summer transfer window appear to be reasonably accurate and while he would not discuss Liverpool's financial situation, Benitez was adamant it would not force him to consider his position as it has done in the past.
"My commitment is beyond doubt," he said. "I decided to stay here because of the fans and the club. I told my staff and a lot of the players that we were trying to extend the squad and keep the spine of the club. That is 100 per cent clear and that commitment has not changed."
However, Benitez was irritated by suggestions that the loss of the departed Xabi Alonso was a principal factor in their shambolic first-half display at Tottenham. The time to make a fair judgement, he said, was when Alonso's replacement, Alberto Aquilani, regained fitness in the autumn.
"It is easy for these so-called experts to talk about the game when they don't see the training," he said, focusing on the former Liverpool captain, Jamie Redknapp, who was fiercely critical of the display at White Hart Lane. "Aquilani is a player of quality and any manager in Italy will talk about the passes he can give to Steven Gerrard. But it is easy for people to criticise on television; they have never managed a team that has lost a game – or won one."Reuse content