LIVERPOOL, March 10 – Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez will leave his decision on Fernando Torres' participation in Tuesday's Champions League showdown against Real Madrid until the last minute.
Spain striker Torres is Liverpool’s main goal threat but has been out since the end of Febuary with an ankle injury suffered in the Reds’ 1-0 victory in the first leg of this last 16 tie at the Bernabeu.
The architect of that win, Yossi Benayoun, is ruled out with a hamstring problem and Benitez also has doubts over Alvaro Arbeloa’s hamstring injury.
Without Torres, Benitez, who refused to comment on speculation about a possible takeover of the club, would be severely limited in attack and he will wait as long as possible before making a final decision on his fitness.
If Torres does miss the Anfield clash, it seems likely that Dirk Kuyt will start the game in attack, while Dutchman Ryan Babel, should replace suspended left winger Albert Riera.
"Arbeloa and Fernando will need time," he said. "We had light training sessions on Monday and they were training with everything but we will decide on Tuesday after the final training session.
"It’s about whether he’s fit, whether he’s ready. The first decision is whether he can play and then whether he can play 90 minutes and hopefully it will be less."
Benitez admits that despite his team’s stumble in the Premier League, their progression in the Champions League, including the win in the Bernabeu, means his side are full of confidence ahead of a key run of matches.
After the clash with Real, they face a decisive game against Manchester United at Old Trafford before entertaining Aston Villa in the Premier League.
The Spaniard, who guided Liverpool to the Champions League title in 2005 and the final in 2007, acknowledges that Europe is now his best opportunity for a trophy this season.
And he feels that Real will be patient in the early stages of the second leg at Anfield.
He added: "I think it will be different. We’re playing at Anfield so we want to win but how to win, I don’t want to give any clues because we can play counter-attack sometimes or just attack.
"I think they will wait and try to play counter-attack and if they can’t press our team then maybe they will go forward and try to attack. The main thing is what we want to do.
"I read the Spanish press after the first game and I was enjoying it because they were talking about them playing badly so that’s credit to our players."
"They did a fantastic job and maybe we could have played a little bit better on the counter-attack but the game-plan was good and they didn’t have chances."
"They couldn’t really create many chances so that’s credit to us. The players have a lot of confidence now because we were working so hard in the Bernabeu and working really hard at the things that we wanted to do well so we will approach this game with confidence."
Benitez has also rejected claims that he did not celebrate with the players after their win in the Bernabeu.
He said: "All the players when they just arrive in the dressing room, I say to all of them, everyone, also the staff, ‘well done’ or ‘congratulations’ or something like this, for every single game in the last five years.
"I want to clarify that. It’s true that I am a quiet person and calm in the dressing room but I try to enjoy it inside and I was joking with Mascherano with him saying ‘Come on, smile!’.
"I’m relaxed and really happy, the atmosphere was very positive and hopefully it’ll be the same after the next game."