RAFAEL Benitez admits he has a "big decision" to make over whether to risk Fernando Torres' delicate hamstrings against troubled Portsmouth tomorrow.
And Liverpool have already held discussions with the Spain squad's medical team over whether Torres should be used next week in the friendly with England.
In the wake of the disaster of losing captain Steven Gerrard with a torn hamstring for three weeks, the Reds manager knows he dare not allow Torres to suffer yet another breakdown as the club's title chase reaches the critical final phase.
Benitez believes Gerrard's injury was partly prompted by the tiredness he was feeling after his 32nd club game of the season.
Now the spotlight turns to Torres, who has suffered three hamstring injuries already while on international duty over recent months.
Benitez said: "Everyone can see that Torres is not quite up to his full fitness yet after his last hamstring injury. He was capable of scoring two against Chelsea last weekend but also looking tired against Everton.
"He is not sharp enough. It is a risk to play him, and we took him off against Everton because he was just not able to work any more towards the end.
"We now must see whether he is ready for the next game, that is our big decision.
"There is no point worrying about him playing for Spain next week because we know he will be selected, whatever we say.
"The Spanish manager (Vicente del Bosque) has tried to contact me, but we missed each other. But we will talk. Today we have been speaking to the Spanish squad's fitness coach, so they know the situation.
"They know our players are involved in a lot of games now and they will take care of him.
"The problem now is that Spain are doing so well, they want to keep everybody together and they want to continue to create a very good atmosphere.
"I understand, it is not easy for the manager. But they know about our season."
Benitez accepts that Torres would always opt to play, regardless of his physical condition.
He added: "If you ask Fernando whether he has a problem, he will say no. Always players say that, so we need to check him and decide.
"Players always want to play every game, so this is a decision for the staff rather than Torres. Maybe we have to protect the player from himself.
"I recall an experience in Valencia when I had four players coming back from injury. They all said they were fine for a match, no problem. Thirty minutes later all four were a disaster. We cannot allow that to happen here."
Liverpool, who have not lost a league game since November, know they dare not slip up at Fratton Park following their FA Cup exit at the hands of Everton.
Benitez said: "Now we have an international break that will be good for Stevie to recover, and although we would rather still be in the FA Cup, we now have a situation where we will have to play less games this season and that could help us in other directions.
"Stevie will be out maybe for three weeks, he will have extensive work now with the medical team and some players react quicker than others. He may be back sooner rather than later.
"But I still feel that we have enough quality in our squad to cope with such problems, we have plenty of players who can fit in up front and in midfield.
"We must play a few games without Stevie, but we have options even after selling Robbie Keane.
"I am really pleased with Ryan Babel's progress at the moment, and in Dirk Kuyt we have a player you can guarantee will play well and give everything.
"He is a fantastic player, a great professional and he is always positive. He is not a player you need to talk much to about coping with difficult situations.
"If Torres is ready, that is another important option. But I also believe we have good young players who can come in."
Benitez will be without the suspended Lucas and also has a worry over Xabi Alonso's ankle injury.
He moved to counter claims that he is "at war" with the club owners over his contract, seemingly made by Alonso in a Spanish media interview.
Benitez said: "We are not in a war, we are working together trying to improve and we are looking for the best things for the team.
"We are still talking over my contract, but there is no more progress yet.
"We are talking, we do not have any problems. But we do have different ideas in different things so we will keep talking."