LIVERPOOL, England, April 7, 2010 (AFP) - Fernando Torres has cast a shadow over Liverpool's vital Europa League quarter-final clash against Benfica by admitting the club's season was doomed before it even started.
The Reds will need Torres at his clinical best if they are to overturn a 2-1 first leg deficit against Portuguese league leaders Benfica at Anfield on Thursday.
|Fernando Torres reacts during Liverpool's UEFA Europe League football match against Benfica at the Luz Stadium in Lisbon, on April 1, 2010. AFP PHOTO|
But the Spain striker appears to be feeling the pain of Liverpool's lacklustre campaign more than most after delivering a devastating critique of the problems which have derailed Rafael Benitez's side this term.
Torres has been in superb form of late, scoring seven times in his last six matches, yet he had already insisted Benitez must buy three or four world-class players before next season and now he claims the Reds shot themselves in the foot in pre-season by selling Xabi Alonso, Sami Hyypia and Alvaro Arbeloa.
Spanish duo Alonso and Arbeloa joined Real Madrid, while veteran defender Hyypia was allowed to leave for Bayer Leverkusen.
"After a good season last year, the team needed certain reinforcements and to keep the squad together, but circumstances dictated we had to sell and everything got messed up," Torres told the Daily Mail.
"The sale of Arbeloa, Hyypia and Alonso was an important loss. Alvaro was a player who did a vital job for us, always played to a high level and his flexibility was a huge bonus.
"Sami may not have played every week but he was 10 out of 10 on and off the pitch and players like Xabi are very rare.
"He was the team's engine and you know that when you change an engine it takes time to work again.
"We were so far off the top of the table so quickly. That killed us psychologically and has stopped us changing the situation."
Torres's strong views could have been prompted by Benitez's decision to substitute the forward with 25 minutes still to play in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Birmingham.
The former Atletico Madrid star looked shocked as he came off and team-mate Steven Gerrard also expressed his surprise at the decision.
Benitez claimed he wanted to protect Torres from injury ahead of the final weeks of the season, but it seemed to many fans and pundits that the Liverpool boss had given up on his side's hopes of finishing fourth in the Premier League and was concentrating on winning the Europa League instead.
That would be scant consolation for the Kop fans if their team fails to qualify for the Champions League, yet Benitez is still adamant victory in Europe's second tier competition would be a major achievement.
"The Europa League now is a very, very important trophy for us and we have to win against Benfica," Benitez said.
Liverpool will be without suspended Dutch winger Ryan Babel after his controversial first leg dismissal.
With Liverpool leading through Daniel Agger's early goal, Babel was sent off for pushing his hand in Luisao's face and Benfica went on to win thanks to two penalties from Oscar Cardozo.
Benfica will travel to Merseyside confident they can claim the draw needed to add to the pressure on Benitez.
Jorge Jesus's side know exactly what it takes to succeed against Benitez's team after beating them 3-0 on aggregate in the last 16 of the 2005-06 Champions League.