Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Raul : Torres is worlds best

Real Madrid talisman and Champions League record goal scorer, Raul, believes moving to Liverpool has given Fernando Torres the chance to become the best striker in the world as the two Spaniards prepare to meet at the Bernabeu.

Raul, who is Real’s all-time top scorer with 309, also holds that accolade for the Spanish national team, and as such is better placed than most to assess the quality of his young compatriot.

“He will go as far as he wants to go,” says Raul. “It depends on how much he pushes himself and I think he is the kind of player that pushes himself to the absolute limit.

“He is a striker with a tremendous amount of power and pace. An aggressive centre-forward who hits the ball very hard, who is superb in the air and is very capable of getting away from defenders.

“He was third in the Fifa World Player which shows you what national team coaches and captains think of him. He scored over 30 goals last season, something that is beyond most strikers. And on top of all that he is still very young and yet already with so much experience.”

The pair were on opposite sides in many Madrid derbies, when Torres played for Atletico.

However, for all his talents, the Liverpool forward is still to break his Bernabeu duck, something Raul is wary of happening tonight when two of the most famous names in European football meet for the first leg of their first knockout round of this year’s Champions League.

“He is now in a team where he is fulfilling his potential,” Raul told the Independent. “He feels important at the club but there are other big players there too, to share the burden.”

“That run without a goal [against Real] came in very different circumstances. They were derby games with a lot of tension and a lot of pressure on him. It was too much. Now the load is much lighter.”

The load to be carried by a visiting forward to the Bernabeu these days is heavier than even a few months ago.

The Spanish champions have conceded just two goals in their last nine games, an improvement on their early season form that Raul credits with the arrival of former Tottenham manager Juande Ramos.

“At the start of the season we let in a lot of goals. We suffered a lot. Since Juande’s arrival the team looks much more solid and we can still improve – we have only been together under him for two months.”

In England Ramos might well be remembered as a failure, but in his homeland he is anything but, having guided Sevilla to European glory and now, incredibly, having revived the Spanish title race - since he arrived Real’s record is better than domestic and European champions elect Barcelona.

“When Juande arrived [at Tottenham] the team improved drastically in a very short space of time. Then the club sold two strikers. Robbie Keane and Berbatov were very important for a team like Tottenham,” said Raul.

“Juande’s career record is there for all to see. For what he achieved at Seville [five trophies in two years] and for those first few months at Tottenham – if he had had the players that he wanted then perhaps the club would have been in another position.”

“It’s going to be a very tactical encounter because [Rafael] Benitez will have studied every last detail and Juande is very similar,” he says. “He is someone who studies the opposition and he knows Liverpool from his time in England.

“When he was at Tottenham they played against them and practically every week we are seeing Liverpool’s matches on TV. There will not be any big surprises. These games will be decided by the smallest of details.”

One detail occupying Liverpool fans’ minds today is that of Steven Gerrard’s fitness. And for Raul and his team-mates, too, whether the Liverpool captain, who is included in the squad despite recently recovering from a hamstring injury, plays or not is of key significance.

“He is one of the best players in the world,” says Raul. “He has so much quality and he knows how to help his team-mates. I’ve seen a lot of games where it has been him who has won difficult matches for them by making or scoring the all-important goal. He is a fantastic player.”

“Gerrard is the soul of that team. He is Liverpool. It is very difficult to think about Liverpool without him in the side, or to think of Gerrard in another team.”

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