LIVERPOOL, May 4 – Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insisted Spanish duo Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso would be fit for the Premier League title finale after his side kept up the pressure on leaders Manchester United.Torres, who has scored 16 times for his club this season, missed Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Newcastle after suffering a hamstring problem in training on the eve of the Anfield match.
His compatriot Alonso did start but was forced off after falling victim to a shocking challenge by Newcastle’s Liverpool-born midfielder Joey Barton which saw him sent off.
Alonso left the pitch on a stretcher but Benitez played down fears that the midfielder will miss the final three matches of the season.
He also insisted Torres could have featured on the substitutes bench but decided not to gamble his fitness at such a crucial stage in the season.
"Torres had a problem with his hamstring and in the end we decided to leave him out of the squad," said Benitez, after goals by Yossi Benayoun, Dirk Kuyt and Lucas halved United’s lead at the top of the table to three points.
"We had to decide whether to put him on the bench because to start with him would have been very dangerous.
"If he had been on the bench he would have needed a proper warm up and that is also a risk. We thought it best to leave him out altogether."
Benitez said he was hopeful Torres will be fit enough to start next Saturday’s game at West Ham, a match Liverpool must win if they are to pip United for the title.
"Alonso took a heavy knock but he should be ok in a few days," added Benitez, who also comfirmed Javier Mascherano has suffered a twisted ankle.
"I can’t comment on the tackle (on Alonso). I didn’t see it. It was too far away."
United remain clear favourites to win the title as they have an extra game in hand. But Liverpool have won seven of the last eight league games and Benitez is refusing to concede defeat in the race for the Premier League.
"Manchester United are a good team with big players. But they have to make two big mistakes but we are there to take advantage if they do," he added.
While Liverpool remain in the hunt for the title, Newcastle are in serious trouble of being relegated after 16 successive seasons in the top tier.
Caretaker manager Alan Shearer could not hide his anger at Barton for his red card which will rule him out of the last three matches of the season.
It was Barton’s first game since the end of January after suffering a metatarsal injury.
"The sending off was the correct decision," said Shearer, who is set to fine Barton two weeks’ wages.
"We will miss him for the rest of the season. I’m not happy about it. I feel he’s let me down, the club down and he’s let himself down without any doubt.
"You can’t say he was unlucky. It was the right decision and he’s apologised."
Newcastle are three points adrift of safety with three games remaining. Their next match is against fellow strugglers and north east rivals Middlesbrough on May 11.
"That match will go a long way to deciding our future," added Shearer. "The Liverpool game was always going to be difficult.
"But as far as we’re concerned it’s gone. We’ve forgotten about it and we’re now focused on getting ready for a massive game against Middlesbrough next Monday.
"It’s the biggest game of my Newcastle carerer. It’s the biggest game for anyone involved in the club now."