Tom Oldfield

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is currently sporting his fourth black eye of the season – one shy of his Premier League goal tally thus far. But it will clearly take more than a few bruises to throw him off his game.

Prior to the Reds’ trip to Upton Park on Saturday, the Spaniard had asked questions of his own form and the way in which he was handling the physical approaches of opposition defenders. Despite scoring three goals in Liverpool’s opening four league fixtures, he felt there was more to come.

And against the Hammers he proved it, answering all the probing questions he had posed in midweek. Torres scored a scintillating double to once again rescue Rafael Benitez’s side from a perilous position and turn a possible defeat into a much-needed 3-2 victory. He opened the scoring with a crisp finish after a smart run down the left while his second – which ultimately proved the winner – was a fine header from a Ryan Babel cross.

Considering all Torres’ success in England, it was surprising to hear his comments about the physicality of football England. He is an increasingly marked man as defenders try every trick in the book in a bid to subdue him.

The striker told reporters: “Of course, I have to be aware of defenders paying more attention to me. I have to improve and play to my strengths. I have to learn to play like this. Scoring goals is always the best answer and I have to stay focused on football. If you get frustrated then you cannot win the game. I know for the good of the team I have to be aware and beat the defenders. That is my job.

“I speak to Rafa [Benitez] all the time. I have been watching clips of my performances from the first and second seasons with Rafa and am trying to do the things I was doing then, while also trying to improve.”

In fact, it is an indication of Torres’ prowess that one or two eyebrows were raised over his form in part due to his failure to find the net in two games: a 4-0 victory over Burnley and then a scrappy 1-0 win over Debrecen in the Champions League – and he obviously felt he had been below his best. If all strikers were put under such scrutiny, there would be a far greater demand for journalists.

But Benitez had clearly spotted that Torres was feeling the effects of carrying the bulk of the goalscoring burden. Playing as a lone striker is often a thankless and draining experience and, though the 25-year-old has fulfilled the role sublimely at times, it is a big ask.

The Liverpool boss’ struggles to find a pair of top drawer wingers have left him with few alternatives over the past few seasons but with Yossi Benayoun in excellent form on the right Benitez has taken the chance to push Dutchman Dirk Kuyt alongside Torres to spearhead the attack. And the Spaniard looks to be reaping the benefits.

Dealing with body checks, shirt-pulling and off the ball fouls has become all too familiar for Torres but his performance at Upton Park was another reminder that he will not be bullied out of matches. He might appear to have a relatively slight frame but his pace, desire and surprising strength ensure that he is always a threat.

The striker’s appetite for the rough and tumble of Premier League football has clearly not been diminished by the toll it has taken on his body but Benitez now faces a tricky decision over the team formation, particularly when summer signing Alberto Aquilani returns from injury.

It was expected that Aquilani would fill the departed Xabi Alonso’s role alongside Javier Mascherano with Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt and possibly Benayoun or Albert Riera playing behind Torres in Benitez’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. Yet preserving his most prolific scorer’s fitness and protecting him from burnout must be high on his list of priorities – and this may prompt the Reds boss to shift closer to a 4-4-2 system.

Either way, Torres remains the key to Liverpool’s chances this season and it is simply impossible to belief that he commanded just a £20M price tag when he joined from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2007. That is around half of the fee paid by Manchester City for Carlos Tevez. Who knows how much Torres would cost in today’s market?

But Benitez is well aware of the true value of his goal machine and on Saturday he was reminded yet again that lone striker or not, pummelled by defenders or not, Torres is a world class finisher and will not let his manager down.

Meanwhile, with plenty of focus on Torres’ heroics, it should not be forgotten that Liverpool were shown up again defensively on Saturday, making it nine goals conceded in six games. The back four still does not look right which will come as a major disappointment after consecutive clean sheets. Benitez will expect more when Hull City visit Anfield at the weekend.

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Photo courtesy: Ryu Voelkel