[IN THE SPOTLIGHT]The short-term financial commitment of Liverpool's co-owners, Americans George Gillett and Tom Hicks, has been at the center of the debate that has torn the club apart in recent months. What is forgotten, of course, is that they did come up with $40 million to acquire Spaniard Fernando Torres from Atletico Madrid -- one of the best moves of the Rafael Benitez era at the Merseyside club.
Liverpool's chances of returning to the UEFA Champions League final for the third time in four years under Benitez will depend in large part on whether the 24-year-old striker can produce in the semifinal series against Chelsea that begins Tuesday at Anfield (TV: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, live, 2:30 pm ET).
Torres has scored 30 goals in all competitions for the Reds, who scored just two goals in their previous semifinal victories over Chelsea in 2005 and 2007.
"The team has confidence when players like Fernando Torres are in the team who can score goals," Benitez said Monday. "The players know that sometimes you are not playing well and maybe you will score because of a player like Torres. In this case, the team is playing well, and we have confidence because we know Torres can create something."
The first of Torres' 30 goals came against Chelsea in league play last August.
"I scored my first important Liverpool goal against Chelsea and I want to do it again on Tuesday," said Torres. "That goal gave me confidence to believe I could score in the big matches."
Torres, who scored in Liverpool's 4-2 win over Arsenal in the quarterfinals, has already passed his season high for league goals, justifying the record Liverpool transfer fee Gillett and Hicks paid.
Torres has been on the fast track since signing with Atletico at the age of 10. He debuted with Atletico at the age of 17 and was named captain at 19. At 24, he is only three league goals shy of the 100 mark.
DID YOU KNOW?
Fernando Torres is very superstitious. "I always repeat what I did the day before a game if I've scored," he says. "So if when I score. I'd stood up on the [bus] on the way to the game, I'll stand up again. If I'd spoken to someone, I'll speak to them again. I always repeat it."
FERNANDO TORRES-League Goals
YEAR TEAM GP-G
2002-03 Atl. Madrid 29-13
2003-04 Atl. Madrid 35-19
2004-05 Atl. Madrid 38-16
2005-06 Atl. Madrid 36-13
2006-07 Atl. Madrid 36-14
2007-08 Liverpool 31-22