Benitez tells Torres to focus on goals instead of moaning and Gerrard to raise his game
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez expects his 'big names' to lead by example and drive the club on to Champions League qualification.
A difficult season has seen captain Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres' form affected by injuries, while Jamie Carragher has also failed to produce a consistent standard of performance.
Torres is causing Benitez the most concern. The Liverpool manager yesterday again voiced his concerns over the apparent flaws in the Spanish international's temperament and warned him that he must improve his focus and "concentrate on football".
Although Torres has scored five goals in his past three appearances for Liverpool, he has been receiving yellow cards at a similarly prolific rate, with his booking in the 2-1 defeat at Manchester United last Sunday taking his tally to five in seven games.
The 26-year-old, whose performance at Old Trafford was marred by a series of complaints to referee Howard Webb, has escaped disciplinary action for petulantly kicking the penalty spot prior to Wayne Rooney's saved kick, despite Webb confirming to the FA that he would have booked Torres had he seen the incident.
With Torres also choosing to go public earlier this month with claims that Liverpool require "four or five" new players this summer to compete at the top of the Premier League, his frustration on and off the pitch is becoming increasingly evident.
Liverpool realistically need to win all of their remaining games to qualify for the Champions League and Benitez has urged Torres to focus his energies purely on scoring the goals that can help maintain the club's flickering ambitions of a top-four finish.
"Fernando knows he has to focus a little bit more. He can score more goals by concentrating on football. All strikers, especially top-class strikers, they are marked a little bit more closely than others and that is normal. It is not easy every game" said Benitez.
"People don't understand when you are a player on the pitch and you are fighting and sometimes you cannot understand these things."
Gerrard's form is also a worry for Benitez. The Liverpool captain has been below par for most of the season and against United struggled to raise his game enough to be able to drag them back into it -- as he has done so often in the past.
The Reds have now fallen behind both Tottenham and Manchester City in the race for fourth place. And, should Aston Villa win their two matches in hand, they too will overtake the Anfield club.
Liverpool have seven matches -- with only one against a top-four club (Chelsea at home) -- to save their season and Benitez wants his top players to lead the way.
He said: "Sometimes, when you talk about big names, top-class players, you are expecting something from them when the team is not doing well.
"You expect them to say, 'It's OK, follow me'. We have had this conversation with Fernando and the rest of the team. It was something we were expecting from Torres and he was really good the other day (scoring two against Lille)."
Torres' form in the last week shows he is approaching the level which saw him score 33 goals in his debut 2007/8 season. Even in the last injury-hit campaign he scored 17 as Liverpool ran United a close second in the League.
Benitez can only ponder what might have been had the Spaniard, who missed five weeks after a knee operation in January having been troubled by a hernia before that, been fully fit all season.
Instead he has to worry about whether they will qualify for the Champions League.
"It was a pity because it was a very good season (last year) and if we were doing more or less the same we would be up there," said Benitez.
"We have seen some games where we couldn't score and we conceded and after we didn't have the same reaction as last year."
Left-back is another area of concern for Benitez with Emiliano Insua looking like he is feeling the effects of what has been a testing season.
The manager believes Fabio Aurelio is probably a fortnight away from a comeback after a thigh injury sustained almost a month ago, which means the 21-year-old Insua will continue.
However, Benitez stressed that the Argentinian, who has played all but two Premier League matches this season, needed more support from his team-mates.
"It is not just one situation where you can point to someone," he added. "The team has to take care of the situation. We have to share the responsibility."
Benitez, who expects injured defender Martin Skrtel to return within a fortnight, expects Liverpool's rivals for fourth place to drop points in the coming weeks.
He said: "We know we have to win our games because it's clear that the other teams will drop some points and lose some games. How many they drop is the key. We have the belief we can finish in the top four but we have to keep going. Every game is important for us."
One player who won't be charged with helping to keep Liverpool's hopes alive is winger Albert Riera, who is on the way to CSKA Moscow for £6m, according to reports yesterday.
The Spanish international recently spoke out against Benitez, a move which earned him a suspension from the team and a heavy fine. (© Daily Telegraph, London)