Tough-talking Benitez lays down the law to his under-performing team

It has taken time, but Rafa Benitez, the Liverpool manager, has started to show a ruthless side.

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It has taken time, but Rafa Benitez, the Liverpool manager, has started to show a ruthless side. The way he has looked too quickly get rid of Albert Riera after his recent outburst was one example. The Spanish winger described Liverpool as a "sinking ship" under his countryman's charge and was likely to be shipped out himself on a loan move to Russia. Then there has been the rare public criticism of his players and the demand for improvement, particularly from key men Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, ahead of today's game against Sunderland.

"When the team need them, they need to be there and when the team are not playing well they have to be leaders by example," said the manager. "That is the way if you want to be a strong team." This was the sort of response that has been required for some time from the Spaniard to his under-performing side. But whether it is too late to have an impact remains to be seen. Their top-four hopes centre on the failure of others, even if they win their remaining seven games.

And it also depends on the contribution from Gerrard and Torres. The latter has scored five in his last three games, the former has just one in the league in 2010. But Gerrard said: "You play football for 15 years and there are times when it can't always be rosy, you cannot always be Roy of the Rovers, scoring goals and winning football matches, sometimes you have dips in form." Torres yesterday responded to more speculation about his future by pledging his loyalty to the club, writing on his own website: "My place is here at Liverpool, and in England."

Sunderland's own threat has been obvious too with Darren Bent's 21 goals. His effort, with the assist of a deflection from the infamous beach ball, gave Sunderland the win between the sides at the Stadium of Light. Benitez added: "Bent is scoring goals and doing well - but the main thing is what we can do. If we play well, we can beat anyone." akhan@thenational.ae