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Page last updated at 16:28 GMT, Monday, 13 September 2010 17:28 UK

Alan Hansen's column

Fernando Torres
Torres struggled to make an impact for Liverpool at St Andrew's on Sunday

Alan Hansen
Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Liverpool's Fernando Torres has been the target for heavy criticism following his below-par performance in the goalless draw at Birmingham on Sunday

Let me say, I am not going to defend his performance, or insist he was great when he was actually on the other side of bad. On the other hand, however, I think there were a variety of circumstances at work that contributed to the overall effect.

Torres suffered because the service into him was really poor. He thrives on receiving balls into space and over the top of defences that utilise his blistering pace, and they were in very short supply from Liverpool at Birmingham.

And another key factor is Torres' very obvious lack of full match fitness. It is clear that he is still a million miles short of peak condition and a long way away from what is expected and demanded in the Premier League.

It is clear that he is still a million miles short of peak condition and a long way away from what is expected and demanded in the Premier League

Torres has been dogged by groin and knee injuries, a problem which required surgery last season, and also picked up a groin injury virtually the moment he came on for Spain against the Netherlands when they won the World Cup in South Africa

He is still working his way to his best shape and there are no shortcuts. The only way he can get that level back is by playing games.

Birmingham also defended on the edge of the 18-yard box against Liverpool and were able to nullify Torres and the rest of Liverpool's attacking efforts, which were short on creativity. Bolton played the opposite way to Birmingham against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, defending high up the pitch, and were cut to pieces on occasions.

Also it should be remembered that, in terms of the overall game, Torres has never been a massive contributor. He does not get heavily involved in team and link-up play. He is an explosive, out-and-out individual goalscorer. Torres bursts into life when he senses a goalscoring opportunity.

If you are looking for a major contribution to the team play then you might be looking for a very long time. This is not what Torres is about.

Nemanja Vidic
Vidic has had a tricky time against Torres in recent clashes

So I certainly do not think Torres is not trying or does not care. I have watched games when his body language has screamed out total frustration and it has looked like things cannot get any worse for him - then a chance comes along and bang, he wins the game. This is the Fernando Torres style.

As I said, I am not going to say he was good at Birmingham because he was anything but, but it would also be premature to say there are major problems with his game.

Liverpool need to keep playing him so he gets fitter, and Roy Hodgson's side also needs to provide him with a better service to make use of his talents. Put all these things in place and you have one of the finest strikers in the world.

Liverpool's creativity improved when Steven Gerrard moved back to the centre, and a fit Torres getting the sort of service he needs will always get goals.

Liverpool will look for something that will spark Torres into life - and it might just happen this Sunday when they play Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Nemanja Vidic was magnificent towards the end of last season and been just as good at the start of this one, but it is a matter of record that he has been troubled by Torres from the moment he hesitated with the striker in his sights at Old Trafford a couple of seasons ago and allowed him to equalise in a game Liverpool eventually won 4-1

As a central defender myself, you always remember the strikers you have had a nightmare or a hard time against and it is not pretty. And let me tell you, it is a two-way street.

You always remember the strikers you have had a nightmare or a hard time against and it is not pretty

Torres will remember his successes against Vidic, and he scored both at Anfield and Old Trafford last season, just as much as Vidic will remember the trouble he has had with Torres.

Something else that should help Torres edge further towards his old self will be the return of Joe Cole to Premier League action at Old Trafford after his three-match ban.

Cole will bring an extra layer of creativity, as well as some unpredictability, to Liverpool's midfield and he will be on territory where he also has recent happy memories after scoring in Chelsea's crucial win at Old Trafford last season.

So while I am not here to disagree with anyone who said Torres was poor at Birmingham, I think the problems on display can be put right - and as far as Liverpool and Hodgson are concerned there would be no better place for them to do it than at Manchester United.

Alan Hansen was talking to BBC Sport's Phil McNulty

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see also
Reds boss Hodgson defends Torres
13 Sep 10 |  Premier League
Torres vows to stay at Liverpool
27 Mar 10 |  Liverpool
Liverpool complete Torres signing
04 Jul 07 |  Europe

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