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Will Gerard Houllier’s appointment inspire Aston Villa to victory at Stoke tonight? Get all the best betting tips and odds here.

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson has defended Fernando Torres after the striker was criticised for his subdued performance in the goalless draw at Birmingham.

Torres, who has struggled for form since suffering an adductor injury last season, looked off the pace in Sunday’s Premier League encounter.

Former Liverpool midfielder, Jamie Redknapp labelled the Spaniard’s performance ‘diabolical’.

“Fans will suffer to a certain extent when you give the ball away, but they won’t suffer a lack of effort,” Redknapp said. “Out there for 45 minutes today he (Torres) has been terrible. He hasn’t got hold of the ball, he hasn’t chased, he’s got frustrated, he could have been booked, he’s been diabolical.

“I’m his biggest fan, and of course you have to give Johnson and Dann credit, but he’s shown no appetite for the game. He’s looked frustrated, sloppy, lethargic. I know people talk about his rustiness, but he looked fed-up.”

Hodgson, though, defended the performance of his star striker.

“Fernando came into the centre on a few occasions and, when he did that, he caused havoc,” said Hodgson.

“You’ve got to give the back four of Birmingham credit. They worked very hard to contain him and pressurise him.

“But he’s looking fitter with every game. I thought he looked dangerous and became stronger as the game went on.”

Torres is returning to match fitness after a knee injury at the end of last season and a groin problem suffered in the World Cup final in July.

He scored the winner in Liverpool’s league win over West Brom and Hodgson insisted his main striker is showing signs of improvement.

“I think he is working hard for the team,” added the Reds boss. “He is a constant thorn in the side of defenders.

“We know he lacks match training. He missed matches at the end of last year and during the World Cup but I’m not at all concerned about Fernando Torres. He will get better and better.”

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