Fitness race: Fernando Torres
Rafael Benitez believes Fernando Torres will be fit to face Birmingham onMonday, but rates Steven Gerrard as doubtful for the Barclays Premier Leagueclash at Anfield.
Both players are likely to be given until the last minute before a finaldecision is made on their respective groin injuries, but the Liverpool bossmaintains that he does not expect either to be selected for their nationalsquads next weekend.
Benitez has held discussions with Spanish FA officials and believes he has agentlemen's agreement that Torres will not be called up for Spain's homefriendly with Argentina next Saturday.
Although Benitez has not held similar conversations with England over Gerrard'sfitness, his attitude is that the Liverpool skipper has been sidelined for toolong to be a serious option for Fabio Capello.
England play Brazil in Doha next weekend, and Benitez would be furious ifGerrard was selected.For Monday's match with Birmingham, Liverpool have Fabio Aurelio, Albert Rieraand Martin Skrtel back in training, although there are still doubts over GlenJohnson and Martin Kelly.
Benitez says: 'The injury situation is improving, several players have been inlight training and hopefully they will be able to do more over the next fewdays.
'Then we will see whether they can be available. There is a big difference,though, between being fit and being available. For example, yesterday Gerrard was training and working with the physios.Will he be fit or just available? We don't know yet.
'That is something we will have to look at. For 15 days he has been withouttraining, so can he play? At the moment I do not know.
'Torres has been to Spain to see a specialist and we have discussed it allwith our medical staff. He is a little better than he was before. He will train and work with the physios. Whether he will be okay to playagainst Birmingham, we do not know that either, yet.
'He could play and we must be careful with him. We will look at the situationafter every training session.
Missing: Torres and Gerrard's injuries are damaging Liverpool's season
He added: 'The experience I have had for many years with this sort of problemis to carry on and see how players react. Some players react different.
'Some can play all season with the problem, some need to stop and rest. Theyare all different. Torres is the one who can play. He has played in pain and he wants to playfor the team, he has a great mentality.
'I believe we can carry on with him. I have been very surprised by the criticism of my decisions, people can seethat Fernando is not fit.
'We have had to decide how long he can play and when hemust stop.'
Benitez has been stung by criticism of how he has handled Torres' problem,saying: 'Sometimes it is clear he is not fully fit. But he is improving. He wasmuch better after playing and scoring against Manchester United, and he wasbetter still after playing and scoring against Fulham.
'And he played for 87 minutes against Lyon, he is still improving.
Pain in the groin: Gerrard
'It is notthe same assessment for Gerrard, he has not been training with the team.
'It is totally different because he is clearly not fit and he will need time. I have talked to the Spanish people, their technical director and theirfitness coach.
'They have talked to the Spanish manager and they all know thatFernando has to work hard with the physios to improve his condition. Let us see how we do in the next game, then they will have 15 days of theinternational break to get fit, then let's see how they are after that.
'I have discussed this all with the Spanish staff, it is not an agreement butthey know the situation and they know he should not be involved. I have not spoken to the England staff, but they will surely know that Stevenhas not trained for two weeks and clearly cannot be fit for a friendly.'
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