Rafael Benitez expects life to be tougher for star striker Fernando Torres next season but believes he has the character to cope with the extra attention he will receive from Premier League defenders.
The Spain forward has bagged 32 goals in a remarkable first campaign in England, including the winner on Sunday in Liverpool’s final home game of the season against Manchester City.
And Torres, runner-up in the PFA and Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year polls last week, has now equalled the 23 goals record of Ruud van Nistelrooy - the highest number by a foreigner in his first season in the Premier League.
Reds boss Benitez said: “Fernando has been amazing, and he has reached that total without any penalties.
“Clearly it will be more difficult for Torres next season, defenders will have watched him and will work on stopping him.
“But he can improve even from this. He has a strong mentality and he can cope with what defenders do.
“It will not be easy to score this many goals again, obviously it will be more difficult for him.
“But if he scores a good number of goals and his team-mates, five of whom have scored 10 or more this season, also improve and increase their number of goals, it will be OK for us.”
Liverpool have only lost one game this term when Torres has scored, and that - sadly for Benitez and Reds supporters – was last week’s Champions League semi-final exit at Chelsea.
At home, Torres has been lethal, with 21 league goals at Anfield this season.
It is a total bettered by only four players in the top flight in the club’s history – Ian Rush 23 in 1983-84, Robbie Fowler 22 (1995-96) with Sam Raybould (1902-03) and Gordon Hodgson (1930-31) each also scoring 21.
Benitez said: “The winner against City was another good goal for Fernando, and he has produced an amazing number of goals without penalties.
“It is fantastic for the club now and in the future. He will score many more.
“Fernando has scored a lot of his goals at Anfield, but all of our squad enjoy playing here. It is a fantastic atmosphere and he is enjoying his time here at Anfield and in England, and hopefully it will be the same next season.”
In a campaign that has seen Liverpool take so much criticism of their style, they have scored 79 goals in all competitions at Anfield this term, the club’s second-highest total following the 87 they scored in 1985-86.
But Benitez knows he must plan well in the summer, again making it very clear he is at Anfield for the long haul.
He said: “The supporters have been fantastic all season for the team, the club and especially for me.
“I will now be planning and preparing for next season. We will go to Switzerland as usual in pre-season to play some friendlies.
“I am really, really pleased to be here. The fans have been fantastic for me and the team.
“During the summer we will try to improve the squad. We are still not taking our chances, so that is something that we will try to improve.
“Sunday was our last home game, so it was important to say ’thank you’ to the fans, but the way to do that was with a win. To hear them every week with their fantastic support makes me proud to be here.
“I am pleased with fourth, but we want to be higher. But people must not forget that the top two are the top two in Europe as well and will spend a lot of money in the summer.
“Chelsea and Manchester United are at the top of Europe, so to be in the top four in England is very, very difficult. To be there, or to qualify for the Champions League for four years, is hard to achieve.
“We will always try to be contenders. But talking about it does not change things.
“The key now is to sign the right players, and to improve the squad. I do not really know what I have to spend, but it is not a question of money, it is spending the right money on the right players. You do not always have to spend big money.”
Benitez will look to his young reserve side for additions to his senior squad, with full-back Emiliano Insua – who made an impressive first start of the season against City – high on the list.
But some stars will clearly go. It was noticeable that Peter Crouch, Jermaine Pennant and John Arne Riise did not take part in the lap of honour on Sunday.
Benitez said only: “They were not in the squad, so they had freedom to do what they want. Sometimes players who are not in the squad do not come to the ground.”