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Torres. Key to the title?

One man cannot win a title, but he can make a huge difference. Last season, Cristiano Ronaldo did. And this year? There are several reasons for believing that a 19-season wait might just end but the most compelling one wears Liverpool's No. 9 shirt. Fernando Torres managed 33 goals last year, but silverware eluded him. But when Torres takes aim, he usually hits the target.

Eight days after his brace decided the Merseyside derby, Torres made it back-to-back Premier League doubles. More importantly, he rescued Liverpool from a seemingly irretrievable position, rousing them from a performance that, for 45 minutes, was at best mediocre. In the process, he provided Manchester City with an unwanted reminder of the chasm between the genuine contenders and their wealthy pursuers.

City may covet Torres. They are unlikely to get him. Dirk Kuyt's warning that Steven Gerrard cannot be prised from Anfield (or maybe, if it is ever built, the new Anfield) may also apply to the top scorer. There are, it appears, some players money cannot buy. Yet with a deserved two-goal advantage at half-time, City seemed to be heralding their arrival among the elite. What followed was a comeback to rank among Liverpool's finest. There were mentions of Istanbul afterwards, and they were justified.

Normally, however, such memorable fight-backs are orchestrated by Gerrard. While the hitherto quiet captain was involved in the first two goals, however, the catalyst was Torres.

''We know how important Torres is for us,'' said Rafa Benitez. ''He's always a threat for defenders, he can score and also his mentality.'' He displayed a characteristic combination of instinct and timing to arrive in City's six-yard box to convert Alvaro Arbeloa's low cross.

Gerrard, who had begun that move, then whipped in the corner that Torres met with an emphatic header for his second goal. An unusually glaring miss deprived the Spaniard of a hat-trick but, in added time, Yossi Benayoun cut the ball back from the byline for Torres. His shot rebounded off Robbie Keane, but into the path of Kuyt, who mustered a Premier League goal for the first time since November.

By that stage, both sides had been reduced to 10 men, but their attitudes were instructive. City were depleted when Pablo Zabaleta's reckless tackle on Xabi Alonso resulted in a red card. It was just, but a sense of injustice remained at the City of Manchester Stadium.

Liverpool, having made all three substitutions, had Martin Skrtel stretchered off. Benitez is often branded cautious, but his decision to deploy just three defenders and press for a winner was promptly justified.

''Physically we are in a good condition,'' said the manager, whose team have become second-half specialists, with only Manchester United's Wes Brown scoring for them in the first 45 minutes. ''Credit for the mentality of some of the key players. The positive thing is the reaction of the players, the character and belief is the key. The determination was fantastic, much better in the second half than in the first half.''

That is an understatement. City shone for 45 minutes, negating the strong spine to the Liverpool side by attacking intelligently on either flank. Both goals came from moves on their right wing. For the opener, Shaun Wright-Phillips' cross found its way, via a combination of Arbeloa and Robinho, to Stephen Ireland to wallop his shot in.

Wright-Phillips' played a pivotal part in the second. Unable to halt him legally, Albert Riera fouled him and Javier Garrido beat Jose Reina with a magnificent free kick.

While a cheaply-acquired Spaniard could score from 25 yards, a costly Brazilian could not from four. After Wright-Phillips travelled 70 yards with the ball, his cross was volleyed over by Robinho. That would have been 3-1 and, in all probability, game over.

What followed was significant. The replacement of the hapless Fabio Aurelio, who had been tormented by Wright-Phillips, with Andrea Dossena was both a merciful release and the key to subduing City's outstanding individual.

''I thought we were excellent in the first half,'' said Mark Hughes. ''We really took the game to a very strong Liverpool side, a big strong adept side. We caused them as many problems as any side this season.''

That includes Manchester United and Everton and is a correct assessment. But given City's first-half superiority, Liverpool's response was equally significant. There are teams who frequently score late goals and, even when they involve ricochets, it is rarely a consequence they do.

Level on points with Chelsea and with Manchester United's habit of scoring in the final stages, Liverpool are very much in the title race.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Fernando Torres
There is a case for Shaun Wright-Phillips, who was superb, but Torres was the man who turned the match Liverpool's way.

MOAN OF THE MATCH: Many of the Manchester City fans informed referee Peter Walton that he wasn't fit to referee after Zabaleta's departure. They should reconsider: the Argentinian's challenge was precisely the sort of dangerous tackle that warrants a straight red card.

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: Their quartet of attacking midfielders showed that this is a side of genuine creativity. Wright-Phillips was the pick of the quartet but some of Elano's contributions, whether his passing or his tracking back, were also noteworthy. Yet City may require the balance Martin Petrov, often their best player last season, offers as well as a finishing touch. The underwhelming Jo, thus far, does not look a £19 million striker.

LIVERPOOL VERDICT: It was a remarkable second half but, once again, the dependence upon Gerrard and Torres was outlined. While Kuyt actually managed the decisive goal, they are the two proven match-winners and the two potential additions to that select band, the wild card Ryan Babel and Keane, were only on the bench. Albert Riera and Kuyt were preferred to the former on the flanks to add solidity and balance. They certainly provided the latter, along with cover for the struggling full-backs. Bringing in Dossena for Aurelio would mean there was less need for the left winger to track back, though.

OUT OF THE CUPS: Manchester City may be the richest club in the world, but that did not stop them running out of polystyrene cups. Evidently the billions from the Gulf are not being invested at Asda.


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