The sight of Fernando Torres pulling up injured in the World Cup final would have been far more of a concern for Liverpool fans than those cheering the Spanish on. As with the last three seasons he has been at Anfield, he will be an integral part of any success Liverpool hope to achieve, and – assuming they can hold on to him -Roy Hodgson will hope he stays as fit as possible. But while Torres stuttered in South Africa, another Spanish forward has been excelling on the international stage.
Dani Pacheco has been the catalyst of another batch of talented Spaniards, at the under-19 European championships currently being played in France. The diminutive forward has been at Liverpool since 2007 after honing his craft at Barcelona’s La Cantera since he was 12. Although Liverpool have already picked up players in the transfer window – Cole, Shelvey, Wilson and Jovanovic – Hodgson isn’t blessed with an abundance of strikers. When Torres was absent last season Rafa Benitez turned to David N’Gog. Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel, both strikers in their native Holland, have been used in wide positions and it remains to be seen – with Babel especially – if they are given a chance down the middle. Pacheco made just four appearances last season, but if Hogdson looks at his new team as a blank canvas, it may be the least experienced of Liverpool’s strikers who catches the new manager’s eye.
Part of the reason that other strikers have found it hard to cement themselves in the Liverpool team has been Rafa Benitez’s preference for a single striker. When playing Torres, with Gerrard just behind, the two have excelled and the team has performed well. For the likes of Robbie Keane, Craig Bellamy and Peter Crouch, the lack of opportunities has seen them move on. Pacheco is still only 19 and may be more patient in waiting for his chance. Much will depend on whether Hodgson will buy another striker and what system he decides to play.
As with so many who have come through the ranks at Barcelona, Pacheco is blessed with quick feet, good passing and a clinical finish. With Joe Cole and a more settled Alberto Aquilani, the team will hopefully offer more creativity than last season. Far be it from me to tread over old ground, but Alonso was a loss last season, and already this squad looks a more balanced one than twelve months ago. If Liverpool are to play the type of football that they have been capable of in the past, Pacheco, along with the new signings, could add an extra spark.
The system Hodgson deploys will also play a part in how he can utilise Pacheco. At 5″6″, there is a lack of physical presence so being asked to fill in for Torres up front on his own may be asking too much. But playing alongside him, on either side of a front three, or even as a central midfielder would play to his strengths.
While he is performing well for Spain at the moment, he is not playing in front of Hodgson every day like the rest of the squad, and the new boss may wait until he has cast his own eye on him properly. I’m not saying his performances will not have gone unnoticed, but I’d hope that the fact that he’s missing part of his club’s pre-season, and that he may not have had a decent rest over the summer, do not go against him when trying to break into the first team.
Clearly Liverpool haven’t been where they want to be over the last couple of years, and if ever there was an opportunity to start afresh and give new players and ideas a chance, this must surely be it. The ongoing frictions between the board and the pitch mean that funds are at a premium for Hodgson and his team. Maybe in Dani Pacheco he has what he needs right under his nose? He has consistently turned in quality performances for the reserves and youth team, and he may now be ready to make the step up.