Torres turns on style for Reds

AN UNSTEADY side not sure of its future, a turbulent 12 months full of criticism and bad blood, a manager constantly on the brink of one crisis or another.

And then there is Rafa Benitez and Liverpool.

Diego Maradona, the Argentina coach and footballing legend was at Anfield last night to watch Liverpool beat Lille to advance into the quarter-finals of the Europa League and he could teach Benitez a thing or two about player unrest and how to survive by the skin of your teeth after Argentina’s oh-so-close qualification for the World Cup.

For example, and entirely in keeping with the way Liverpool’s season has been going, Benitez suspended winger Albert Riera until Monday before the match for going public on what he thinks of his managerial incumbency.

The midfielder has labelled life at Anfield as akin to living “on a sinking ship” and Lille were just the latest iceberg obstructing a season’s path.

A year ago this week, Liverpool were beating Real Madrid in the Champions League and Manchester United, scoring eight goals, conceding one.

Fast forward a year and they were competing in the Europa League with fourth place in the Premier League their highest domestic ambition. Who says Riera does not have a point when those two scenarios are compared?

Benitez must have wondered how his side could overturn Eden Hazard’s first-leg goal that gave Lille the advantage on Merseyside. Nine minutes in he had his answer. And as always, it involved getting the ball to Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. That was all it took for Benitez’s travails to be partially alleviated when Gerrard sent goalkeeper Mickael Landreau the wrong way from the penalty spot.

Lucas squirmed his way into the box and drew a ludicrous tackle from Adil Rami allowing Gerrard to do the rest.

In fact, if Torres had shown more composure with two good opportunities moments after the opening goal, Liverpool could have been 3-0 up before they knew it.

Ryan Babel and Gerrard both played higher up the field and that also opened up space for Dirk Kuyt and Lucas to plunder forward. Chances remained rare though apart from a Daniel Agger header that somehow stayed out after half an hour and a Lucas drive smothered by Landreau.

Liverpool’s hopes should then have been shattered as Lille came within the width of Pepe Reina’s head from punishing Benitez’s side. Hazard sped through an absent Liverpool defence and would have scored if Liverpool’s goalkeeper had not diverted the close effort over with his glistening dome.

After the interval, Torres finally found his range just four minutes into the half. Ryan Babel launched a speculative ball forward which Rami misjudged. If that was not bad enough, Torres was given the freedom of the pitch by Aurelien Chedjou. It was a costly error as Lille found to their cost exactly how foolish it is to give the Spaniard space as he poked home his first European goal since last April.

With 20 minutes to go, Lille replaced Florent Balmont with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and he should have scored with his first touch but the opportunity went begging.

It encapsulated just how nervy Liverpool had become though as an away goal would still see Lille through.

Yet with just minutes left, Torres helped dissipate those nerves entirely as he lifted the ball over Landreau from close range to give Liverpool some breathing space. The good times are not exactly back but on nights like this they feel as if they are not that far off.

Liverpool subs: Kyrgiakos for Agger 90, Benayoun for Babel 80), Ngog for Torres 90

Lille subs: Aubameyang for Balmont 71, Vandam for Hazard 86.

Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Bologna) 6.

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