Liverpool consider Torres gamble

Rafael Benitez is contemplating one of the biggest gambles of his career as he mulls over whether to throw Fernando Torres into battle in the Premier League summit meeting with Chelsea this weekend.

The Spanish striker has been sidelined for over a week with a slight tear in his hamstring, but he is close to a full recovery and Benitez could be tempted to risk him for a clash he believes could be critical to his side's aspirations to claiming their first English title in 18 years.

The midweek draw with Atletico Madrid underlined the extent to which the absence of Torres blunts Liverpool's cutting edge, and Benitez also has concerns over the fitness of Robbie Keane, who had to come off with a groin injury in the Spanish capital.

Liverpool go into Sunday's clash unbeaten this season and level on points with their London rivals at the top of the Premier League table. But Benitez is acutely aware of how important matches between England's big four are in deciding the destiny of the title. "It is just three points on offer but we all know they can be worth a lot more," he said.

Liverpool managed just four points from six games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United last season, but last month's Anfield victory over United has raised morale - and expectations - on Merseyside.

Clean sheets
Chelsea have injury problems of their own with Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien all sidelined, although Joe Cole and Ashley Cole may have emerged from the treatment room in time for Sunday. The injury problems have not prevented Luiz Felipe Scolari's side from putting together a run of six consecutive clean sheets, and goalkeeper Petr Cech believes his side's confidence at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea are unbeaten in 74 matches, will give them a vital edge.

"Liverpool did not play well at the beginning of the season, but they kept winning and that shows their strength," the Czech international said. "At the moment they have some momentum, but we are controlling games well and we're at home, which I think could be the key."

Manchester United will aim to close the gap on the top two on Saturday, when Wayne Rooney goes back to his old club Everton in search of his 100th goal in club football. The England forward, who turned 23 this week, has been in stunning form of late, and his midweek strike against Celtic made it nine goals in seven matches. "To reach 100 there, with my Everton background, would be a sweet moment," Rooney admitted.

Newcastle will be without the injured Michael Owen again as they seek to give their fans something to cheer about in their north-east derby clash at Sunderland. Mdfielder Joey Barton could make his first start since serving 74 days in prison for assault as the Magpies go in search of three points that could lift them out of the relegation zone.

Blackburn, who may hand Benni McCarthy his first start of the season, entertain Middlesbrough while West Brom battle fellow top-flight newcomers Hull, currently sitting third in the table, in Saturday's other match.

Fourth-placed Arsenal are not in action until Sunday, when they make the short trip to West Ham. North London rivals Tottenham, meanwhile, go into their home clash with Bolton knowing that even a victory will not be enough to lift them off the bottom of the table.