LIVERPOOL, July 28 – When Alan Hansen showed off the League Championship trophy at Anfield in 1989, nobody in the world of football would have believed that, 20 years later, he would still be the last Liverpool captain to lift the title.The years since then have been filled with despair for supporters of the club as they have had to watch their arch-rivals, Manchester United, become the most successful club in English football, winning the league 11 times since Hansen’s moment of glory.
Both clubs now have 18 English league titles to their name – the joint best – so the race for the Premier League trophy this season is likely to have added piquancy with Liverpool looking to regain their ascendancy while United will do everything in their power to bag undisputed number one status.
Liverpool know their main hopes of finally ending their two-decade wait come in the shape of captain Steven Gerrard and striker Fernando Torres.
Since his debut in 1998, Gerrard has become an inspirational leader at Liverpool, playing 440 games for the club, scoring 119 times and helping them to the Champions League title in 2005 while Torres, who joined two years ago from Atletico Madrid, is also a fans’ favourite.
Despite a succession of hamstring injuries that have curtailed his number of appearances, Torres has still scored 50 times for Liverpool in just 118 games.
The scale of their importance to Liverpool are also backed up by the fact that in the 28 matches the duo played together last season, Liverpool won 20 games, drew six times and lost only twice.
They picked up 66 points from an available 84 – 78 per cent of the points available.
However, the figures when Gerrard and Torres were absent make for some disturbing reading for Rafael Benitez – and also do nothing to rebut the claims that Liverpool are too dependent on their captain and leading striker.
In the 27 matches where they did not figure, Liverpool won just 14 times, drew 10 games and lost three matches.
This works out at 52 points from a potential 81 or just 64 percent of those available.
The losses between when they did and did not play is not that huge – just a single match – which confirms that Liverpool did have a solid looking defence last season.
But the damage was really done by the amount of draws they produced without the pairing.
They eventually lost the league to United by just four points so those six additional draws – and the 12 points they dropped in them – proved to be a huge difference.
The unpalatable truth is that without Gerrard and Torres, Benitez lacks a player who can turn a draw into a win and one point into three.
Dirk Kuyt, Yossi Benayoun, Xabi Alonso and Albert Riera all impressed last season but they rarely take responsibility for an ailing Liverpool performance with a crucial goal or vital intervention.
Torres himself accepts that Gerrard is crucial to Liverpool’s hopes.
He said: "A captain in England must lead by example and Steven Gerrard is someone everyone wants to be like – always the first at training, it is he who grafts the hardest in each exercise, who sacrifices himself during each match.
"You follow him blindly. I am very comfortable with the partnership I have with Stevie and he is comfortable with me. We now must play like this for a long time together."