Under-fire Fernando Torres gives Liverpool boss Hodgson Europa puzzle
Fernando Torres' form and fitness extends beyond tonight's Europa League group stage opener against Steaua Bucharest.
Just as Sir Alex Ferguson dramatically and ineffectually reshuffled his side before Tuesday's goalless draw with Rangers to keep his squad fresh for Liverpool's arrival at Old Trafford, so Roy Hodgson is likely to regard Steaua as an a mere aperitif.
The Liverpool manager was angered by comments that Torres looked punch drunk at Birmingham on Sunday.
To Robbie Savage, commentating for BBC Radio, the Spaniard's body language suggested an “uninterested” footballer. In the Sky camp, Jamie Redknapp, a one-time Liverpool captain, described his display as “diabolical.”
Torres is unlikely to face a Steaua side that, whatever their history — Hodgson reeled off the fact that they had won 44 Romanian trophies during his press conference at Anfield — finished fourth in an indifferent league.
However, his manager pointed out that Torres was keen to play and his lacklustre display at St Andrews had as much to do with being asked to fly to Buenos Aires by the Spanish FA to take part in a friendly against Argentina than anything else.
“I think it is wrong to try to read someone's state of mind after 90 minutes of football,” Hodgson said. “You would have to be some wonder psychologist to do that. I have never been able to watch someone play and tell you what state of mind they are in.
“Torres is a front player. They are either heroes or villains. Against West Brom, Torres was a hero. A game later and he is the villain. Pepe Reina was the villain against Arsenal. Against Birmingham he won us a point. Torres is in good mental shape. He'll be happy to play if I want him to play but whether I want him to play is another question.
“He certainly isn't fed up. Criticism is something we have to live with. We bear strong expectations at this club and everyone is interested in us. We fill newspapers and air-time and of course everything that happens at the club is put under the microscope and that includes players' performances.“
Hodgson said he would be repeating Ferguson's experiment of withdrawing his leading players for a European night.
And the Anfield boss added that he found it strange that a manager should be criticised more for losing with a reshuffled side than with a team that he stuck with.
“It is up to us as managers to make sure decisions are not taken out of fear of what people might say,” he said.
Liverpool should back themselves to progress without Torres or Steven Gerrard.
Having learned his lessons from his run to the Europa League final last season with Fulham, the Liverpool boss is keen to avoid the pitfalls of over-playing people too early in the campaign.
“It is up to me to try to choose a team which will win the game and possibly give some of the players [who are] needed to play against Manchester United a well-deserved break,” he said.
“I will use games in Europa League and Carling Cup in order to try to get a better knowledge of he players to make certain, as time goes on, I have no doubts what our best XI is.
“Dirk Kuyt (shoulder) is out and Fabio Aurelio (Achilles) we have to wait for but we are not picking up injuries so I have quite a big squad to choose from.
“Everyone in the country understands that to play the number of games we and teams like ourselves have to play you have to change the team.
“What I don't really understand is how every time you change the team and they do not win the selection is criticised.”
On Liverpool’s arguably unimpressive kick off to the campaign, he added: “We've played eight, won five, drawn two and lost one — I don't think that is a bad start to the season by any stretch of the imagination.”