Liverpool striker Fernando Torres may already know if he’s to get a starting role against Marseille tonight, but nobody outside the club will know until just before kick-off. Torres has been left out of the eleven for some games of late with Rafa saying he didn’t feel the £18m buy could be as effective against a deep-lying defence, such as that employed by Birmingham in the recent 0-0 at Anfield.
Torres is fully able to accept his role at the club, and is willing to sit out some games. He said: “We players have to adapt to systems, rather than systems being adapted to suit the players. The manager will decide who plays depending on what he needs in each game. The players who do best are the ones who win a place.”
The Spaniard was made captain at Atletico at a tender age and says he was prepared for the challenge of playing for the Reds: “I’m playing with pressure and responsibility. I’m used to it.”
Peter Crouch was Fernando’s partner last week against Reading and he spoke afterwards about how all the strikers have to get used to rotation, including Torres: “It is certainly something he’ll have to get used to. The manager likes to chop and change the team but as long as it works and we play like we did at Reading, then I’m sure there won’t be too many people complaining. It keeps every player hungry. You don’t want to be out of the side, so you’ve got to perform when given the chance. The players who came in have done that. He was magnificent tonight. The thing about Fernando is that he’s a top class player but he works so hard for the team. You can see that. The manager obviously likes all the players to work hard and the strikers to track back and he does that extremely well, as well as his more obvious qualities. His goals were fantastically taken and it was a superb all round performance.”
Crouch also said Torres was becoming very popular in the dressing room: “He speaks a bit of English, he’s not confident enough to do interviews yet but in the dressing room he’s got a bit about him and it’s always good to see a player trying to adapt and learn the language. He’s a good lad. The Spanish lads are helping him settle in.” Rafa commented after that Carling Cup game that he thought the Torres-Crouch partnership looked promising, and Crouch said he’d enjoyed it: “I enjoy playing with a player with such blistering pace as Fernando. I’ll hold the ball up and get in the box, he can run onto the loose balls and get in behind defences, I certainly think we complement each other. Fernando can win things in the air as well but the fact that he is pacy and reads the flicks helps him get in behind.”
Despite those words from Crouch, the stories are growing that he’s unhappy with his role as effectively fourth-choice striker, and that missing games is making it harder for him to perform when he is chosen. Rafa expects his players to accept his ideas on rotation, and expects them to be ready to play when and where he wants. Djibril Cissé, a likely opponent tonight, was forever complaining about being left out or used on the wing and in the end Rafa gave up on him. As far as the boss is concerned, complaining won’t get a player more games, as he said yesterday: “It’s clear that in a top side all the players need to prove character, quality and a very good mentality. When I talk about a very good mentality, I mean a winning mentality, trying to fight for your position, trying to fight in every game and show that you are good enough. We’re hopefully going to play sixty games, so that’s enough for all the strikers to have their opportunity. If they say they are not ready, in a top side we don’t want excuses. We want players who are ready to play every game the best that they can.”
Yossi Benayoun’s agent made a fuss early in the season about his client being left out of the Liverpool side, even hinting that the player might look for a move. But the player himself seemed to have played no part in that outburst, willing to take his chances when they came, and that has impressed Rafa: “Benayoun has shown in the last few games that if you work hard and are ready than you can play. The key to being in a top side is to be ready to come in. Crouch needs to understand this. The responsibility is on the player. It doesn’t just apply to Crouch, but to all the players. The players must understand this is the right way for winning trophies. For me, it’s better if a player plays 50% of the games working at 100%, and not 90% in all the games and for us not to win anything. You want all of the players at 100% in each game. They need to be ready in each game at this level.”
Perhaps Crouch has been speaking out of frustration rather than just complaining: “Sometimes a player wants to show something but they can’t play because they’re not in the squad,” said Rafa. “That’s frustrating for the player, but that is football. You need to leave people out of the squad. The players must at times be left out of the squad, but they must then be ready for the next game. Crouch and all the players know it must be like this.”
After being left out of the 16 on Saturday, there’s every chance Crouch will start tonight: “I think that Crouch is learning. I don’t have any problem with him. He was training really well today. My idea is to get the best out of every player. With Crouch it’s the same. If I can get the best out of Crouch it will be good for us, so we will try and do it.”
Rafa is also believed to have introduced new signals for his players to use at set pieces and so on, in case former players Cissé and Bolo Zenden were planning to use their inside knowledge to help with their own team’s tactics.