LIVERPOOL // Fernando Torres ended five months of frustration with a "world-class strike" that showed Roy Hodgson, the Liverpool manager, just why he remains crucial to their fortunes this season. It was also why he will plead with Spain not to play the striker in his country's games against Liechtenstein and Argentina to help him get back to his best. Torres has struggled for form and fitness ever since knee trouble curtailed his season back in April after he scored against Benfica in the Europa League.
He ended a 10-match goal drought for club and country yesterday with a volleyed finish from Dirk Kuyt's cross that gave Hodgson's side a valuable first league win of the campaign. "That is the difference," said the Liverpool manager. "In the Premier League most teams have got good players and are well organised and can cause problems for their opponents. Often the difference is a piece of magic that breaks the deadlock and changes the rhythm of the game and the status of the game.
"People like Torres and [Steven] Gerrard can do things not all players can do." Torres was denied a second when Scott Carson made a point-blank save at the back post. Hodgson added: "He started his pre-season late and has had to nurse his knee through a World Cup and that goal will be great for his confidence and will help him. "We're hoping Spain will pass up on his services and give him a chance to continue his recovery.
"He needs more training and he needs more matches and you won't see the best of him until further along the line." But the win should not mask the fact there is still much work for Hodgson to do to get his side to perform at their peak. New arrivals in the shape of Raul Meireles, the midfielder who signed a four-year contract after his £11.5 million (Dh65.5m) switch from Porto, will help. So too will Paul Konchesky and the Fulham left-back should complete his £3m move today.
But, despite the goal for Torres - his 41st in 43 league games - Hodgson still needs to strengthen up front, although he ruled out PSV Eindhoven's Ola Toivonen. Roberto di Matteo, the West Bromwich Albion manager, also hoped to conclude a deal for Wigan Athletic's Paul Scharner. And he was buoyed by his side's spirited showing on a ground where they last won in 1967. Di Matteo, whose side had James Morrison dismissed for a kick at Torres, said: "The difference is that these kind of players need half a chance. There's nothing you can do about that."