Rafa trusts Torres to turn things around

LIVERPOOL manager Rafael Benitez is backing striker Fernando Torres to end his European goal drought and fire his side into the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

The Spain international drew another blank in the 1-0 defeat in Lille on Thursday night, although that was partly due to the brilliance of goalkeeper Mickael Landreau.

Landreau produced a superb low save from Torres’ six-yard header just before half-time to keep the clean sheet which meant Eden Hazard’s 85th-minute free-kick was enough to secure victory.

Torres’ record in European competition is nowhere close to matching his domestic form. In 30 Champions League and Europa League appearances he has scored 10 times.

He has not found the net in Europe since the 3-1 Champions League quarter-final defeat by Chelsea at Anfield on April 8.

And you have to go back to his debut season with Liverpool for his last goal on foreign soil — which was the Champions League last-16 second-leg winner against Inter Milan in the San Siro on March 11 2008.

That compares unfavourably with his incredible Barclays Premier League haul of 51 goals in 75 matches.

A knee operation in January sidelined him for six weeks and the 25-year-old is still not fully match-fit.

However, Benitez was pleased with Torres’ performance in Lille and believes could well prove to be the key figure as they attempt to overturn a one-goal deficit when the French club visit Anfield next Thursday.

“It was really important to see Fernando fighting from the beginning because it sent a very good message to the other players,” said the Liverpool manager.

“He was doing well in Lille but it was difficult for him because they have pace, are comfortable in possession and going forward are a threat — so we had to defend.

“You cannot defend against a team with this pace too high because they will get men behind but you cannot defend too deep because they have ability. So for our defenders to defend and then go and support Fernando was not easy.”

Benitez also defended his star striker after another 90 minutes of frustration eventually resulted in him being booked for complaining once too often to referee Claus Bo Larsen.

“It is not easy for him. There were too many fouls and too many decisions,” said the Spaniard.

“I don’t want to talk too much about this because it wasn’t the difference but with so many referees (the Europa League have two additional assistants at either end of the pitch) I think they should do better sometimes.”

Benitez expects his team to have to do all the running in the return leg at Anfield as he believes Lille will be less offensively-minded with a 1-0 lead to protect.

“I think they will wait, try to play counter-attack because they know they have pace,” he said.

“We know a clean sheet will be important for us but to score one, two or three goals will be necessary.”

Meanwhile midfielder Yossi Benayoun faces a late fitness test ahead of Monday’s visit of Portsmouth.

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