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Feb 6, 2009

Benitez faces Torres dilemma, Gerrard hope

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has admitted that playing Fernando Torres against Portsmouth on Saturday would be a risk, but also indicated Steven Gerrard could return to action sooner than expected.

Torres has already suffered three hamstring injuries this season and is still to get back to full match fitness since returning from his last lay-off. He was noticeably lethargic in the FA Cup defeat at Everton in midweek.

With Robbie Keane sold back to Spurs and Gerrard expected to be out for up to three weeks with a hamstring injury of his own, the boss knows that losing Torres at this stage could prove a fatal blow to the club's title hopes.

Benitez admitted he is powerless to stop Spain picking the striker in their friendly against England next week but will put his case forward with regards to the fitness concerns.

But there could be better news on Gerrard with Benitez hopeful that his skipper could return ahead of schedule. It was thought that the Champions League game against Real Madrid was the best case scenario but if the injury heals quickly he may be available to face Manchester City on February 22 - meaning he will miss only one match.

Benitez said: "Now we have an international break that will be good for Stevie to recover, and although we would rather still be in the FA Cup, we now have a situation where we will have to play less games this season and that could help us in other directions.

"Stevie will be out maybe for three weeks, he will have extensive work now with the medical team and some players react quicker than others. He may be back sooner rather than later.

"But I still feel that we have enough quality in our squad to cope with such problems, we have plenty of players who can fit in up front and in midfield. We must play a few games without Stevie, but we have options even after selling Robbie Keane.

"I am really pleased with Ryan Babel's progress at the moment, and in Dirk Kuyt we have a player you can guarantee will play well and give everything. He is a fantastic player, a great professional and he is always positive. He is not a player you need to talk much to about coping with difficult situations.

"If Torres is ready, that is another important option. But I also believe we have good young players who can come in.''

Benitez admits he has a "big decision'' to make over whether to risk Torres' delicate hamstrings against troubled Portsmouth

Benitez said: "Everyone can see that Torres is not quite up to his full fitness yet after his last hamstring injury. He was capable of scoring two against Chelsea last weekend but also looking tired against Everton.

"He is not sharp enough. It is a risk to play him, and we took him off against Everton because he was just not able to work any more towards the end.

"We now must see whether he is ready for the next game, that is our big decision.

"There is no point worrying about him playing for Spain next week because we know he will be selected, whatever we say.

"The Spanish manager (Vicente del Bosque) has tried to contact me, but we missed each other. But we will talk. Today we have been speaking to the Spanish squad's fitness coach, so they know the situation.

"They know our players are involved in a lot of games now and they will take care of him.

"The problem now is that Spain are doing so well, they want to keep everybody together and they want to continue to create a very good atmosphere.

"I understand, it is not easy for the manager. But they know about our season.''

Benitez accepts that Torres would always opt to play, regardless of his physical condition.

He added: "If you ask Fernando whether he has a problem, he will say no. Always players say that, so we need to check him and decide.

"Players always want to play every game, so this is a decision for the staff rather than Torres. Maybe we have to protect the player from himself.

"I recall an experience in Valencia when I had four players coming back from injury. They all said they were fine for a match, no problem. Thirty minutes later all four were a disaster. We cannot allow that to happen here.''

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