Torres looks to maintain golden form
Fernando Torres’ return to form has coincided with Liverpool’s belated climb up the Premier League table and the Spain striker will be looking to score in the third match running when his team visits Stoke on Saturday.
Torres has this year been a shadow of the player who starred for the Reds between 2007-09, with fitness problems affecting his displays for both club and country.
However four goals in four league games – including two against Chelsea last weekend and another in the 1-1 draw at Wigan on Wednesday – indicates Torres is back to something approaching his best form, and his combination with captain Steven Gerrard has helped propel Liverpool out of the relegation zone and up to ninth place.
The 18-time champions, who are unbeaten in six matches in all competitions, need a win at the Britannia Stadium this weekend to stay in touch with the top four, who are starting to pull clear.
To do that, Liverpool will again be relying on Gerrard and Torres, who have created or scored all but one of the club’s league goals this season.
"If we are going to do well this season, we need those two firing on all cylinders, we need Torres’ goals and Gerrard’s manipulation and control of the midfield," Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson said.
"We only saw it in glimpses against Wigan whereas against Chelsea and in our previous victories against Napoli, Blackburn and Bolton, it was present in much larger doses."
A month ago, Liverpool was mired in the bottom three and struggling off the pitch as it continued its desperate search for a new owner.
The situation is much better now following the takeover by New England Sports Ventures, and 10 points from a possible 12 have allowed the team’s fans to have renewed hope of a top-four finish.
"There’s been a turnaround but we still haven’t got there yet," Gerrard said. "We still haven’t got fully around the corner but we’re on our way round it. Results have improved, we’re playing better so the feeling and the confidence are a lot higher than they were a couple of weeks back.
"(The takeover) has helped but it’s down to the manager’s ideas coming across, a lot of hard work on the training ground and everyone pulling in the right direction. The players are producing, standing up and being counted and that is showing in our recent run of results."
The England midfielder is delighted to see Torres starting to produce the kind of performances that saw him widely regarded as one of the world’s best strikers.
"He is certainly close (to his best)," Gerrard said. "He said himself he can still do more. That is the way he is and why he is regarded as one of the best players in the world.
"I love playing with him. I think he is at his best but if he is telling me he can improve, fantastic."
Stoke ended a run of five straight defeats with a 3-2 win over Birmingham on Tuesday, lifting it two points above the bottom three.
Liverpool is just a point off fifth-place Newcastle, which is in turn four points adrift of the top four.
Chelsea, which has led the league all season and is four points clear of second-place Manchester United, will look to maintain its record of not having conceded at home this season when it hosts Sunderland on Sunday.
"We’re not conceding goals which is a big help, so we know that to score one goal gives you three points," Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech said. "But this is another game where they will expect to be defending and waiting for counterattack opportunities so we know we have to be ready for that."
The Blues are without suspended midfielder Michael Essien but should have Frank Lampard back after more than two months out following hernia surgery. It will be Chelsea’s first match since parting company with assistant coach Ray Wilkins.
United travels to Aston Villa on Saturday without Paul Scholes (suspended) and injured quintet Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, Owen Hargreaves, Ryan Giggs and Rafael. Patrice Evra is also a doubt with an ankle problem.
Third-place Arsenal travels to Everton in Sunday’s other game and Manchester City, which is fourth, hosts Birmingham.
Elsewhere Saturday, Newcastle is at home to Fulham, Tottenham hosts Blackburn, West Bromwich Albion visits Wigan and sixth-place Bolton travels to Wolverhampton
West Ham is at home to Blackpool desperate for a victory that could lift it off the bottom of the table.
Hammers winger Kieron Dyer believes his team will be in serious trouble if it doesn’t win its first league game since the end of September.
"We need three points otherwise people will start saying we might be doomed," Dyer said.