The Strike: Fernando Torres’ first goal in England set the tone for the future

If football did omens, this one would be right up there.

Fernando Torres announced himself to the Premier League at the end of August in his first campaign at Anfield with a goal against Chelsea: a solo effort proving his power and prolificacy as he sailed past Tal Ben Haim and slid home a lovely finish.

Torres may have done the lion’s share of the work, but the assist goes down as Steven Gerrard’s, who threaded through a very pleasing outside of the boot through ball to set his striker away. The former Liverpool captain would reprise that role on numerous occasions over the next few years, but the fact that he had to take painkilling injections to play through the pain of a fractured toe made this a particular vintage.

The problem for Liverpool and Torres, however, was that this wasn’t quite a vintage Liverpool.

Two of the last three Champions League finals had featured the Anfield club, but this had become a different Liverpool. Losing the second of their two Champions League finals in a revenge defeat in Athens against AC Milan precipitated some change at the club. Players like Jerzy Dudek, Craig Bellamy and Luis Garcia left the club in the summer, and beyond Torres, the other major signings Rafael Benitez made were Ryan Babel and Lucas Leiva.

In the end, it was clear that it would all be down to Torres and Gerrard and the Reds started as they meant to go on. A late Steven Gerrard free-kick beat Aston Villa at Villa Park on the opening day of the season, before Chelsea arrived for the first game of the season at Anfield, when Torres scored his first Liverpool goal.

That, too, was to be an omen. Despite the Spaniard’s goal, a second-half Frank Lampard penalty evened up the game after Rob Styles judged that Steve Finnan had brought down Florent Malouda in the box, much to the ire of the home crowd. In the end, the match ended in a draw, the first of 13 all season. And in games between Benitez’s side and the other top four sides, Liverpool couldn’t manage a single victory all season, drawing four and losing two.

It was a precursor to the very next season, Liverpool’s joint-best Premier League season, when they finished runners-up to Manchester United. And that season, ending the campaign four point behind the champions, Benitez’s side lost only twice, and yet they drew almost double the number of games that Alex Ferguson’s men did. Draws were to haunt Liverpool in that period: outside of the Torres – Gerrard axis, Liverpool had few players capable of scoring goals on a regular basis.

The Spaniard’s first season at the club saw him score 33 goals in all competitions. Gerrard pitched in with 21, whilst no one else got past 11. And when his second season at Anfield was hampered by injuries and managed only 17 goals, Liverpool’s tally tailed off as Rafael Benitez’s organised team were difficult to beat, but without Gerrard and Torres linking up they lacked a cutting edge.

And if Torres’s injuries saw Liverpool’s goals tail off, it was the same for the striker, too.

In all, Fernando Torres played in 102 Premier League games for Liverpool and 110 times for Chelsea after his controversial, big-money move. And yet his goal tally dropped down from 65 for the Anfield club to just 20 for the Blues.

But when it comes to his career, Torres may not have recovered from his injury problems, but perhaps his first goal was telling: maybe he never recovered from leaving Steven Gerrard.

 


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