GerMcCarthy-OCCLiverpool’s failure to follow-up last season’s heroics in the Premier League has been well documented but how significant has the loss of top-scorer Fernando Torres been on a club moving from one negative headline to another as the season heads towards its conclusion.

Fernando Torres remains Liverpool’s top scorer with 12 goals this season – all scored in the Premier League – despite being absent for much of the campaign through injury. The fact the Spaniard has been absent for such extended periods and still tops the goal-scoring charts tells you all you need to know about his side’s stuttering campaign.

The Gerrard-Torres partnership that combined so effectively to steer Liverpool to second place in the Premier League last term has failed to re-ignite in 2000/10 and as a result the Anfield club are suffering. No club with aspirations of winning the Premier League title of qualifying for the Champions League could afford to be without the combined talents of the English midfielder and Spanish striker for too long.

Manager Rafa Benitez has failed to shuffle his squad sufficiently to make up for the loss of his star duo and yet Liverpool are still on the cusp of a top four finish. Gerrard will always offer energy and stimulus in midfield or just behind the leading striker but it is Torres who bulges the net.

When Torres is fit he completely changes the dynamics of Liverpool’s attack. His devastating pace over short yardage means he can out-run any Premier League defender. His rarely mentioned ability in the air marks him out as a combative target man should Liverpool ever need to resort to the long ball tactic. But it is his deadly finishing in the penalty area, irrespective of the acute angle or quality of the opposing defence that singles him out as one of the best strikers in the world.

Simply put, without Torres, Liverpool are toothless up front.   \’El Nino’ has started 15 Premier League games in 2009/10 and scored a remarkable 12 times. He experienced similar injury interruptions in 2008/09 but still managed to score 17 times in 38 appearances.

The responsibility of picking up the goal-scoring slack in Torres’ absence has fallen on Dirk Kuyt. In fairness to the Dutchman he has responded well with  eight goals and is the closest to Torres in Liverpool’s goal-scoring charts -this despite being played out of position as a winger for most of his tenure at the Anfield club. The remaining squad members such as David Ngog and Ryan Babel have failed to fill the attacking void returning miserly 6 and 3 goals respectively.

Torres’ most recent absence occurred following a knee injury picked up against Reading during Liverpool’s embarrassing FA Cup defeat on January 13th.   The official Liverpool web-site reports: “A scan revealed Fernando has torn a cartilage in his right knee and the injury will require surgery and he is expected to be sidelined for six weeks”.

Since that unfortunate injury Liverpool have tasted victory only once in three Premier League starts and found the net a miserable three times (1-1 vs. Stoke, 2-0 vs. Spurs and 0-0 vs. Wolves). Drawing a blank with Wolves last Wednesday was especially frustrating considering Steven Gerrard made a return to first team action. The bottom line is that Liverpool need Torres back as quickly as possible if they are to maintain their push for a Champions League berth for next season.

Whatever the impact of Torres’s absence has been on the Liverpool goals scored column, it is El Nino’s recent comments that will have Liverpool fans even more worried.

In an article published in The Times Newspaper Torres was quoted as saying: “It’s now the owners’ turn, they have to sign players so that this does not happen again. If we want to compete with United and Chelsea we need a much, much more complete squad”.   If the American owners renege on this ultimatum from the club’s most talented player then Barcelona and Inter Milan are certain to test the Anfield boardroom with a huge offer for the Spaniard after the World Cup.

So what can Liverpool do to make Torres stay?

•  A dreaded vote of confidence from the board that Rafa Benitez will still be in charge at the beginning of next season might go a long way to appeasing the striker but is unlikely.

•  Signing at least two world class players after this summer’s World Cup (a goal-scoring midfielder and a proven international striker) would help take the burden off Torres to be the leading scorer every season. This also seems unlikely due to the club’s current financial state.

•  Qualify for next year’s Champions League which will guarantee increased TV income and attract higher calibre of transfer targets.

At the moment Liverpool are just about getting by in their quest to finish in the top four despite the absence of their Spanish talisman through injury. Yet if Torres ends up leaving his beloved childhood heroes in the summer it is unlikely the Merseysiders will ever be able to replace such a complete striker.

offcentecirclebylineGer McCarthy is the author of Off Centre Circle, which chronicles the curious life of  a West Cork League junior footballer.

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