Thursday, July 26, 2007

LiverpooL To Play Torres, Babel & Gerrard

Liverpool will be at full strength for the Asia Trophy final after record signing Fernando Torres was given permission to play and Steven Gerrard recovered from injury, their coach said on Thursday.

Rafael Benitez said Torres and Dutch forward Ryan Babel had international clearance for Friday's match against Portsmouth after a bureaucratic bungle ruled them out of the semi-final.

"Torres and Babel have been cleared and have permission to play," Benitez said, adding that England star Gerrard had recovered from a stomach problem. "I think he's OK. He will be all right."

Torres and Babel were left out of Tuesday's game because they did not have the international clearance needed to appear in a Premier League-endorsed competition.

The triple absences disappointed thousands of fans at Hong Kong Stadium and forced Benitez to field a makeshift line-up which toiled to a 3-1 win against local minnows South China.

"We had some problems without Torres and Babel," Benitez admitted. "Now we have new options and fresh legs, and maybe we can manage the final in a different way.

"Portsmouth will be very difficult to play against but at least we will have more options."

Benitez side-stepped the latest barbs from Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who raised the stakes by saying Liverpool were under pressure to deliver this season.

But he admitted he wanted more bite from the 18-time English champions who have not won the domestic league since 1990.

"I would like to see more goals. We were attacking a lot [last season] but I feel we can improve now," he said.

"We will have more options up front. Depending on the game we can play more crosses with Crouch or down the line with Voronin.

"If we want to change the game I can use another style of striker so I think it will be good for the team."

Goalkeeper Pepe Reina said he expected the highly-rated Torres to make an instant impact on the Premiership after moving from Spain's Atletico Madrid, where he was top scorer for the past five seasons.

"It won't be a problem for him - I expect him to score as soon as he comes," Reina said.

Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp, whose side beat Fulham 1-0 to reach the final, tipped Liverpool finally to challenge for the Premier League title.

"They're looking very strong," said Redknapp. "The backbone of their team is still [Jamie] Carragher and Gerrard but they've added some talent this year and they will get a lot closer to Chelsea and Manchester United, I'm sure."

Redknapp said he would unveil forward John Utaka, Portsmouth's seventh signing this summer as they push for a European spot.