RAFAEL BENITEZ could not disguise concerns over £30million new boys Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel and admitted Liverpool must improve if they are to hit the ground running when the new season starts.
The Anfield boss was forced to acknowledge that his two main summer signings are struggling for sharpness after seeing his side slip to a disappointing penalty shoot-out defeat to Portsmouth in the Barclays Asia Trophy Final.Torres saw his penalty kick saved by David James after making a belated appearance and Babel faded quickly to leave Benitez with plenty to ponder with the new campaign just two weeks away.Liverpool’s title prospects have been hindered by a series of slow starts in recent campaigns and the Spaniard acknowledged that both players need to come up to speed. “They are both a little bit behind the others,” said Benitez. “It is difficult to really analyse the physical condition of the players because it is so warm, but I hope that they will be ready for the start of the season.“I think two weeks will be enough to work with them.“Torres can improve. The understanding with his team-mates was OK, but I am sure he will improve.“He needs time to work on that and so does Babel. It’s clear that he has played longer than anyone else due to the European Under-21 Championships.“He’s 20 and he’ll need time to settle down. We all need to improve still, but if you told me we were fantastic now then I really would be worried.”Torres has been restricted to just 110 minutes so far in a Liverpool shirt and the delays by the Spanish FA in providing international clearance for him here in Hong Kong have deprived him of much-needed time on the pitch.
The striker had been forced to sit out Tuesday’s win over South China and received the go-ahead to take part in the tournament only five minutes before kick-off, restricting him to a 39-minute second-half cameo.Babel appeared no more prepared for action and has yet to showcase glimpses of the talent that persuaded Liverpool to pay Ajax £12m. To add to the malaise afflicting Liverpool’s new faces, Yossi Benayoun also missed with his spot-kick as Harry Redknapp’s side claimed the silverware, much to the disappointment of a packed home crowd.That sense of anti-climax would have been shared by Benitez, however, with Liverpool flying to the other side of the globe only to discover that bad old habits die hard.Portsmouth are the sort of obdurate, organised opponents Benitez has seen his expensively-assembled squad come unstuck against in the past, with just one point gleaned from the two meetings last season. There were chances to settle a low-key final long before the need for spot-kicks – although not as many opportunities as Liverpool’s dominance should have brought – but the Merseysiders were left to rue their profligacy yet again.Dirk Kuyt was guilty of the most glaring miss when heading straight at James from six yards after Jermaine Pennant had bamboozled Matt Taylor, and even the introduction of Torres after 51 minutes could not smooth away the flaws.He should have done better when hoodwinking Sylvain Distin, but could not keep a flashing shot down and it brushed the fingertips of James as it flew over the bar. Kuyt arrived on the eve of last term to much fanfare and insisted the new recruits just need time.“I know what it’s like coming into a big club like Liverpool, where everyone is watching you,” said Kuyt. “But we’ve only had two weeks or so together on the pitch. We’ve got a really strong team and we are all close. “I still think we showed some good teamwork and that will only get better. It’s only the second match with Fernando and Ryan, but you can already see the quality. “The only thing I would say is that we need to finish the chances but I am sure it’ll come. Maybe in two weeks.”