THE SPAIN BARRIER

Liverpool fans will get their wish today

as Fernando Torres is given a Premier League start. But he does so with a warning from manager Rafael Benitez, as the Spanish coach voiced his concern that the club must not be too reliant on their 26.5million record signing. The logic of the Anfield boss is simple. He believes to win Liverpools first top-flight prize in 18 years, his squad must have strength in depth, capable of covering for the absence of any player. Benitez sa

id yesterday: As a manager you need the bigger picture and think about the whole season. If we need to use our big names in every game at Anfield against teams like Birmingham, then maybe we wont be good enough to win trophies at the end of the season. If you say to me that I would have had to play Torres to be capable of beating Birmingham, then Id say we couldnt win the league. If we are not capable of performing without him, then we are not good enough. Benitez (right) has found himself coming under increasing pressure from the critics, after resting Torres for Pr

emier League matches against Portsmouth and Birmingham, when his side subsequently struggled to unconvincing draws. Just six games into the league season, the Spanish striker has already missed 134 minutes of action, as he has found himself on the bench in successive games. Contrast that to Cesc Fabregas, Arsenals equally important Spaniard, who has been substituted just once, and that at the end of a game his side were winning 5-0 against Derby. Y

et Benitez is passionate about his desire to keep players fresh, as he believes it is the only way to ensure they will be fit for the end of season run-in when trophies are won and lost. The Liverpool manager seems almost hurt by the criticism aimed at him, and he pointed to his record with both his current club and his previous club Valencia, where his rotation policies have paid dividends. I was answering the same questions for three years while in Valencia, and we won two league titles and a UEFA Cup because we were fresh at the end of the sea

son, Benitez said. Weve played a final at the end of each season Ive been here. Why? Because weve had a big squad without maybe as many bigger players as we have now, and were going into games with fresh legs. That proves that the system can work. You need players to be fresh f

or the big games at the end, otherwise you will win nothing. Torres can play 20 or 30 games in a row without any problem, but he wont be at the same level in the last few months of the season when we hope to be playing for tr

ophies. Ive done the same for seven years now

and weve been winning trophies. I will make mistakes. But in this case, at the beginning of the season with the team playing well, we have enough other good strikers for Torres not to have to play against Birmingham. We didnt win not because Torres wasnt playing,

but because too many of the players werent performing at t

h

eir level. Benitez is

likely to recall Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, Dirk Kuyt, Jermaine Pennant, Pepe Reina and Sami Hyypia for the trip to Wigan. Rafa added: If I need the pace of Torres at the end of the season, he must be ready. And if he is tired, then he wont be ready. Football is different now, hell play more physical games.

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