Liverpool’s injury crisis continues as they arrive in France to face Lyon in the Champions League, and before they left Rafael Benitez spoke about who might make it, who might struggle and who definitely wouldn’t be going.
“Aquilani had a virus,” he said. “He trained today but was a little bit weak, hopefully in two days’ time he will be better.
“Gerrard won’t travel to Lyon. He has no chance. He is improving but we have to wait. Skrtel has no chance. He has a small muscle problem. It’s not too big but he is feeling something.
“Johnson is training and working with the physios but he is a doubt at this moment. He will travel to Lyon and we will see. Agger is improving – he will travel and we will then decide. He felt something in his back but it’s much better now. We have to wait and see how he reacts. Fabio is improving but he still has a small problem in his calf, so we will have to wait.
“Ngog is much better, so he could be available.”
And after a number of critics got carried away over Rafa’s decision to sub Fernando Torres with an hour gone on Saturday, he confirmed that what seemed blatantly obvious was indeed the case. Torres shouldn’t really have played, using him for an hour was a gamble and any longer would have been a serious risk to his long-term fitness.
The manager said: “I was surprised with the critics after the game because Fernando has had problems in the last month after the international games. We are trying to manage because he was close to having an operation. Still this morning, two days after the game, he is feeling something. He is not comfortable. He has not got the power he had before, so we have to manage and try to protect him. He cannot play well if you keep pushing him. Maybe if you push him he will be injured for a long time.”
One of those ex-players who had a pop at Rafa was Jamie Redknapp. The former captain said: “Even the most ardent supporter must question the key decisions at Fulham. If Fernando Torres is fit to play, then he’s fit to play. Very few players in the modern game will be 100 per cent fit for matches. You play with niggles – that’s part of the job.”
The comments seem strange given the injury problems Redknapp faced during his time at Liverpool, some of which kept him out for months at a time. Despite numerous visits to George Gillett’s knee surgeon Richard Steadman in Vail, Colorado, Redknapp eventually had to retire early from the game. Surely he should have some sympathy for Torres, surely he wouldn’t want to see Torres spend months on the sidelines they way he often had to himself.
It was later reported that the Torres injury is an inguinal hernia and that Liverpool have been trying to protect Torres in an attempt to delay the need for surgery.
Rafa was perhaps also right that much of the most stinging criticism comes from people who just haven’t spent a moment looking into the background of the decisions they’re condemning. He said: “I am really surprised with the critics. When you talk about big names, people just analyse the names and not how the player is when he is on the pitch. He was not 100 per cent fit.”
Torres is going to France because Liverpool are stretched, not because he’s fully recovered: “We have to take Fernando to Lyon because we don’t have too many options. We have to keep working with him and the rest of the players.”
Liverpool have 29 players in their Champions League squad, some of whom are eligible via the “B” list made up of youth players and very inexperienced. Daniel Ayala has just been added as a “B” list player. Of the 29 in the squad, only 19 travelled to France today, and some of those have question-marks over their fitness.
The nineteen in France are: Pepe Reina, Diego Cavalieri (missed Saturday with flu), Daniel Agger (missed Saturday with back injury), Sotiris Kyrgiakos, Emiliano Insúa, Jamie Carragher, Stephen Darby, Daniel Ayala, Alberto Aquilani (recovering from a virus, still on recovery from ankle injury, has only played 13 minutes this season), Javier Mascherano, Lucas, Jay Spearing, Damien Plessis, Yossi Benayoun, Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel, Fernando Torres (struggling with a groin injury), Andriy Voronin and David Ngog (missed Saturday with an ankle injury).
Missing are: Steven Gerrard (groin), Glen Johnson (calf), Albert Riera (hamstring), Fabio Aurelio (calf), Martin Kelly (ankle) and Martin Skrtel (muscle). Andrea Dossena and Nathan Eccleston were both in the squad on Saturday but weren’t on the flight today, presumably having succumbed to that flu virus. Martin Hansen and David Amoo are the other two members of the Champions League squad who didn’t travel.
Nabil El Zhar is another Liverpool casualty, out with knee ligament damage, but like Philipp Degen he wasn’t actually named in the Champions League squad.