Fabulous Fernando celebrates at Anfield. (Photo: EMPICS)
a league of
Comment by James Pearce - Liverpool Echo
When Fernando Torres arrived at Anfield
last summer he was hailed as the final piece in Liverpool’s
The Spaniard was the 25 goal a season striker who could
finally help the Reds make the step up from also-rans to
Premier League title contenders.
With the club shattering their transfer record and shelling
out £20million, the pressure on the quiet 23-year-old was
Many overseas players need time to adjust to the pace and
physical nature of the Premier League but Torres’ impact has
Saturday’s clinical hat-trick secured a priceless three
points against Middlesbrough and took his haul to 21 goals
in just 31 appearances.
In doing so he became the first Liverpool striker since
Michael Owen five seasons ago to reach the coveted 20-goal
Combining stunning natural talent with powerful athleticism
and the heart of a lion, Torres has undoubtedly lived up his
pre-season billing. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the
rest of his team-mates.
Torres’ goals should have helped the Reds bridge the gap and
challenge Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea for the
title. Instead they find themselves 17 points adrift of the
Gunners and locked in a desperate battle with Everton, Aston
Villa, Portsmouth and Manchester City in the race for
Just when Rafa Benitez thought he had completed the jigsaw
with the acquisition of Torres, other crucial bits have gone
Saturday’s clash at Anfield highlighted some of the current
The Reds’ inability to defend set-pieces reared its ugly
head again early on as Tuncay Sanli was gifted the freedom
of the penalty box to nod Boro in front. In fact, for the
best part of half an hour, the Reds were woeful.
After the heroics of the midweek win over Inter Milan there
was a definite sense of ‘the morning after the night before’
among both the players and the fans.
And nobody could point the finger at rotation as Benitez
made just one change with Alvaro Arbeloa preferred to Martin
Skrtel at centre-back to deputise for the suspended Jamie
Arbeloa looked edgy but he wasn’t the only one as possession
was given away with alarming regularity.
Even the usually reliable Javier Mascherano started spraying
simple passes into the second row of the Main Stand.
Middlesbrough, who arrived on the back of a eight-game
unbeaten run, were dreaming of a first victory at Anfield
since March 1976.
Torres admitted last week that the chance to play in big
games like the Champions League clash with Inter was why he
chose to swop Madrid for Merseyside.
But in truth it’s on days like Saturday when the Reds need
his talent the most.
Everyone raises their game on big European nights but when
the team is struggling to impress you look to your stars to
stamp their authority on proceedings. Torres certainly did
that, turning the game on its head with two goals in the
space of 90 seconds.
Julio Arca’s hopelessly ambitious attempt to head the ball
40 yards back to his keeper was ruthlessly punished and
parity was restored.
If his first was a gift there was no disputing the quality
of Torres’ second as he unleashed an unstoppable shot into
the bottom corner from 25 yards.
The Reds were in front but with the backline clearly missing
the influence of Carragher, a one-goal lead never looked
like being sufficient.
In fact if Tuncay had used his head rather than his arm to
divert home a cross and then hadn’t wandered offside before
teeing up Jeremie Aliadiere, Boro could even have regained
the lead before the break.
As it was, the visitors pressed the self-destruct button in
the second half, keeper Mark Schwarzer paying the price for
rushing out of his goal as Torres got the better of David
Wheater before side-footing into the empty net.
It was Torres’ second hat-trick of the season and only
Schwarzer’s fingertips denied him a fourth minutes later.
That should have been it but the Reds got sloppy and Stewart
Downing was allowed time and space to burst into the box and
pick his spot.
Aliadiere’s dismissal for a petulant swipe at Mascherano
soon after killed off Boro’s hopes of a dramatic finale and
ensured nothing was going to take the spotlight off Torres.
The Spanish hitman departed in stoppage time to a standing
ovation but returned soon after the final whistle to finally
wrestle the match-ball from referee Lee Mason.
The Kop have a hero who in time should take his place
alongside the club’s all-time greats. But 18 years on from
their last championship triumph and despite boasting one of
the finest strikers on the planet, Liverpool’s jigsaw
A victory, but the defensive
worries will remain for Liverpool
Comment by Chris Beesley - Liverpool Daily Post
The individual brilliance brought by the
presence of Fernando Torres ensured that Liverpool defeated
Middlesbrough on Saturday but it was the absence of one of
his colleagues that almost cost them the game and a crucial
On the face of things it was well done, job done and a
second victory in five days to keep Liverpool’s twin
ambitions up and running.
Rafael Benitez’s side gave themselves a foot in the
quarter-finals of the Champions League on Tuesday by rising
to the occasion and bringing another of the so-called
superstar teams of Europe down to earth as Italian champions
Inter were disposed of 2-0 in a similarly no-nonsense
fashion to the way Barcelona were humbled a year ago.
So to follow that up with a win in the Premier League
against an improving Middlesbrough outfit who were unbeaten
in their last five outings, results-wise at least – and it’s
a results-based business of course – ensured that it was a
fruitful week for Benitez’s troops who have recovered well
from their shock FA Cup exit at home to Barnsley.
However, while the first win against Roberto Mancini’s
legions proved that Liverpool’s players and supporters have
no problems getting themselves up for the big European
nights, total satisfaction from this encounter would only
paper over the cracks as to why Benitez’s side are actually
in a dogfight with the likes of Everton, Aston Villa and
Manchester City for fourth place rather than putting in a
serious challenge for the title alongside Arsenal,
Manchester United or even Chelsea.
A game that in recent years would have been a home banker
for Liverpool was almost thrown away due to the absence at
the back of the team’s ever-dependable warrior Jamie
Like all great defenders, you don’t realise what you’re
missing with Carragher until he’s not actually there.
The Bootle-born stalwart has never let his incredible
standards of consistency drop, yet you sense there’s a
certain freshness in his play again this season since he
took the decision to relieve himself of international
Although too often overlooked or played out of his most
natural position of centre-half by various England managers,
the 30-year-old has never once seen his ability or
commitment question in Merseyside football circles.
Even the great rotator Benitez seldom shuffles his pack to
deal Carragher out of the starting line-up and while Steven
Gerrard could be seen as being the team’s heart, his fellow
Academy graduate remains the stomach for a fight.
Passing the 500-game landmark for the club this season,
Carragher has featured in more Liverpool games than any of
his team-mates during the current campaign.
Before Saturday, the last Premier League outing he missed
was the 6-0 mauling of hapless Derby County almost six
months ago on September 1 – and they hardly needed him on
that occasion – while the only other games he has not
featured in have been the similarly emphatic 4-0 thrashing
of Toulouse in a Champions League qualifier second leg and
the FA Cup win over Havant & Waterlooville which should have
been a foregone conclusion.
Liverpool’s usually steady back-line looked distinctly shaky
throughout on Saturday and the hosts looked to be missing
Carragher as early as ninth minute as Tuncay was allowed to
ghost in unmarked to head Middlesbrough into a shock lead.
It’s not that Liverpool’s central defenders could be
particularly blamed individually for the problems – the
evergreen Sami Hyypia has stepped up to the challenge of
regularly playing twice a week for most of the season due to
Daniel Agger’s prolonged injury problems and the hardly
statuesque Alvaro Arbeloa was a full-back trying to cover
gamefully in the middle.
But considering that he was fit enough to be included in the
16 and was nominated as man-of-the-match in many quarters in
the recent goalless draw at Stamford Bridge it was perhaps
curious that the most expensive defender in Liverpool’s
history, Martin Skrtel, remained on the bench throughout
considering the situation.
Far too many times Liverpool were carved open by Gareth
Southgate’s side who went into the game having netted just
nine goals away from home all season – the third lowest in
the Premier League after relegation strugglers Derby and
For all his creativity in attacking areas, Yossi Benayoun,
is not the kind of player you want to try and stop Stewart
Downing cutting inside from the left-wing but the England
international cruelly exposed his Israeli counterpart for
Middlesbrough’s second goal seven minutes from the end which
set up a tense finale.
In between their goals, the visitors had twice had the ball
in the back of Pepe Reina’s net only to be denied by
marginal calls and it was only Torres’s anticipation that
ensured Liverpool came out on top.
Although the Spaniard’s second goal was a piece of pure
genius, his first and third were the results of a couple of
horrendous errors by first Julio Arce and then Mark
Schwarzer and David Wheater.
As only their second Premier League win in eight matches,
Liverpool will take three points in whatever way they can at
the moment, particularly as it edges them back above their
neighbours but the return of the man in the number 23 red
jersey can’t come quick enough.
Hitman Torres targets titles
If Rafael Benitez is remembered for just
one thing at Anfield, bringing Fernando Torres to the club
will be right up there alongside winning the Champions
Torres was the local hero at Atletico Madrid, and now he has
proved inside just seven months to be worth every penny of
his record fee, with this already the best-ever goals tally
for a season in his career.
Here is the genuine article. The classic, instinctive
goalscorer with the film star looks to go with blistering
talent in his feet.
It has taken him just those seven months to reach 21 goals
in 31 games, the first Liverpool forward to achieve that
total in a campaign since Michael Owen five years ago.
The hat-trick against Middlesbrough destroyed an effective,
organised team who felt they deserved more for their
Torres had already managed a previous trio in a Liverpool
shirt, the one bagged in September at Reading in the Carling
But this was different. It was his first at Anfield,
finished off in front of an adoring Kop. Those fans have
finally got a hero to potentially match the exploits of Ian
And the Spaniard, 23, insists he wants more, with a very
clear idea of his objectives at Liverpool, saying: "I know
the fans enjoyed the hat-trick and so did I.
"It was fantastic to score in front of the Kop. I am very
comfortable playing here and I am very, very happy with my
first hat-trick at this ground.
"It is important though, that we win titles. I would prefer
to be remembered for the titles rather than my goals.
"I would prefer that more than anything else, and I am happy
with the way I have learned to cope with the physical side
of the English game.
"When I was in Madrid and watching English games on TV, I
could see how difficult it would be to play here.
"There are so many strong defenders. But I have settled, I
have scored goals and I have coped with the physical side.
"Even if it is true that I would not be getting hit in the
back all the time in Spain!
"But I have scored 21 goals already, and we have a minimum
of 14 games more in the Premier League and the Champions
League, and I aim to score a lot more.
"It has been a very good season for me already, and yes, I
would be happy now with 30, but I am more happy when the
"I have not won anything yet, just for the under-18s and
under-19s in Madrid. It is a long time ago and I have come
to Liverpool to win things.
"My target is titles, not just goals. I don't know when,
this season or the next but I will want that.
"I hope I stay here for a long time. I have a six-year
contract so I have every intention of being here a long
time, and if everything continues okay maybe I will want to
sign for more."
Even with his current deal, he could still be at Anfield
when he is approaching 28, and at this rate of goal scoring
he could be well into the hundreds by then.
He added: "It was only the second hat-trick of my career so
it was a great moment for me.
"But we knew that we had to start winning home games if we
want to finish in the top four."
That top four objective was achieved, a position they have
not held for six weeks.
And boss Benitez knows he has struck gold with Torres.
Benitez said: "He will score plenty more. We signed him
because we believed he had the quality, pace and strength
for the Premier League. Also, because he is young, he can
grow and improve.
"He has adapted to the physical side of the English game
very well. He is strong and can cope with big defenders.
"In Spain he would not continually be hit from the back, but
we knew he would not be afraid of the centre-backs, he would
be brave and cope with that style of defending."
Without Torres around, Boro may well have got something
after goals from Tuncay Sanli and Stewart Downing.
But the red card for Jeremie Aliadiere, after raising his
hand to Javier Mascherano, killed the fightback.
Boro boss Gareth Southgate said: "Liverpool had been
involved in a very tough European win earlier in the week
against Inter Milan, and games after Champions League can be
an anti-climax so we were hoping that would be the case.
"We are upset because we felt we did enough right to get
something from it.
"We then suffered a red card when we had turned the tide.
It's harsh but Jeremie will have to learn from that. You
cannot raise your hands and get away with it."
Southgate: We deserved more
By Peter Fraser - Sky Sports
Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate
believes his side deserved more in their 3-2 defeat to
Boro took an early lead through Tuncay Sanli, but Liverpool
striker Fernando Torres then hit a hat-trick to hand his
side the points.
Stewart Downing set up a nervy finish as he hit a late
second for Boro, but the Teessiders could not find an
equaliser, much to the disappointment of Southgate.
"We are disappointed to come away with nothing because of
the effort," Southgate told Sky Sports News.
"I think we deserved something from the game and more so
because we've created chances and scored goals here.
"But that is a sign of the progress we have made. We have
come to one of the 'big four' and given them a game and we
are disappointed which is a good sign."
Southgate, though, insists he will not blame his captain
Julio Arca or defender David Wheater after the duo both
produced blunders to gift Torres two of his goals.
"There is no blame," Southgate added. "We win and lose
together. There were mistakes all over the field some were
punished and some were not.
"We have to learn the lessons, dust ourselves down and we
have two big games to look forward to next week."
The key was to win
By Lee Brown - LFC Official Website
Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez was delighted
after a Fernando Torres hat-trick paved the way for his
side's 3-2 victory over Middlesbrough at Anfield on
The result takes the Reds above their city rivals Everton
and into fourth place and Rafa was particularly pleased with
the performance given that it came just days after their
titanic tussle with Inter Milan.
"I was really happy with the performance," said Rafa. "I
think coming after a Champions League game the most
important thing was to win.
"After we scored the third goal on the counter attack you
could see that we could score more, but they put us under a
bit of pressure because they have some good players in
attack. The key for us was to win and we won."
Liverpool's victory was made possible by Fernando Torres'
second hat-trick for the club and El Nino has now scored a
magnificent 21 goals this term. Rafa had some special praise
for his hotshot compatriot and gave an insight into why he
brought him to the club.
"It's not easy for a foreign player in his first year, but
he has done really well," declared Benitez. " In the summer
we were looking at a number of options, but we chose Torres
because he is young and hungry and we thought his game would
suit the Premier League.
"It's always difficult to score more than 20 goals, but he
has done it in his first season. We knew that he was a
player with power and pace, he can kill defenders with his
"I didn't have a target in mind for him, the main thing for
a striker is to score goals, but they also need to give
assists and create space for the other players. Torres' work
rate is good and everything is positive now for him and for
Fernando too hot for Boro
Fernando Torres' splendid hat-trick earned
Liverpool a 3-2 victory over brave Middlesbrough at Anfield
as the Reds reclaimed fourth spot.
The Spaniard became the first Liverpool forward to hit 20
goals in a season for five years, his total now being 21
since his £20million move to Merseyside.
But Liverpool were made to fight for the win. Tuncay Sanli's
header gave Boro an early lead before Torres struck twice in
two minutes before the break.
He completed his hat-trick, the second since he arrived at
the club, on the hour.
But Stewart Downing kept his side in the game with a goal in
the closing minutes.
But any chance they had of grabbing a point was ruined when
Jeremie Aliadiere was sent-off after an incident with Javier
Liverpool decided on Alvaro Arbeloa as the stand-in for the
suspended Jamie Carragher. Martin Skrtel was only considered
fit enough for the bench after an ankle problem.
A ninth minute free-kick from Downing curled into the box
for Tuncay to head home, to the dismay of a static Liverpool
defence who assumed he was offside.
Mascherano's positioning on the back post disproved that
Liverpool's response was scrappy, to say the least. The
closest they came was a Dirk Kuyt hook over from a Ryan
Babel run and cross.
From a side who had outshone Inter Milan in midweek,
Liverpool had reverted to their former self.
Passes were going hopelessly astray, with possession
constantly conceded and not a hint of rhythm.
It took Torres to pull Liverpool together. Jose Reina's
clearance on 28 minutes was back-headed by Julio Arca
straight to the Spaniard.
He raced away, went round Mark Schwarzer and then found the
net with his right foot.
Sixty seconds later Torres struck again. Fabio Aurelio found
the striker in midfield and Torres lashed home a 25-yard
shot into the bottom corner.
Aliadiere was booked for a foul on Aurelio, before Tuncay
thought he had equalised, sending a Downing cross past Reina
on 34 minutes.
But referee Lee Mason ruled the Boro man had used his arm
and booked the forward.
Boro were still in the game and put Liverpool under pressure
early in the second period.
On 53 minutes Reina and David Wheater were booked after an
incident at a corner. The Boro defender looked to have
flicked his heel at the keeper, who reacted angrily.
Six minutes later Boro sent on an extra striker in Mido,
replacing Gary O'Neil.
Liverpool, without Carragher, had not looked comfortable in
defence all afternoon.
But again Torres bailed them out when he completed his
second hat-trick for the club, the first being at Reading in
the Carling Cup in September.
On 60 minutes, Kuyt's hard graft in defence saw him win the
ball and launch a 50-yard angled ball towards the Spanish
It looked like Wheater would comfortably tidy up the
situation, but with Schwarzer almost alongside him now,
there was fatal hesitation between the pair and Torres took
advantage to hook the ball home from the edge of the box
into an empty net.
Yossi Benayoun came on for Babel before the restart, and
Fabio Rochemback was booked for a foul on Torres.
Torres was on a roll by now and took a Steven Gerrard pass
before outpacing Emanuel Pogatetz and forcing Schwarzer into
a desperate save to his right.
Afonso Alves replaced Tuncay on 69 minutes.
John Arne Riise came on form Kuyt on 73 minutes, the
hard-working Dutchman getting a well-deserved ovation from
all sides of the ground.
Steve Finnan was booked for pulling Alves' shirt on 78
minutes, and Middlesbrough got themselves a lifeline on 83
minutes when Downing got in behind Benayoun on the left to
run on into the box before beating Reina from a sharp angle.
But three minutes later Aliadiere was sent as he slapped
Mascherano after an exchange between the pair on the
The Liverpool man seemed to have patted the French youngster
on the cheek a second earlier.
Two minutes from time Luke Young was booked for tripping
Mascherano from behind.