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By ESPN Staff

Benitez: Torres not guaranteed place

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has warned striker Fernando Torres he cannot expect a guaranteed place in the Reds' starting line-up.

The Spain international was left on the bench and openly criticised by his manager ahead of Liverpool's 2-0 win at Bolton.

Benitez had hauled off Torres, searching for form and fitness after his hamstring injury, after an insipid performance in the embarrassing Carling Cup defeat by Spurs in midweek.

The Anfield chief publicly condemned Torres for a "bad'' display at White Hart Lane, and blamed the senior players for letting down the youngsters.

Torres was given 31 minutes to impress at the end of the victory over Bolton and did so, creating a sitter which Steven Gerrard missed, hitting the post and being thwarted by Jussi Jaaskelainen when the Liverpool skipper had put him clean through.

Torres also provided a sublime outside-of-the-foot pass to set up Gerrard's header to clinch the game, Dirk Kuyt having headed Liverpool ahead in the first-half.

Despite his lively display, though, the message from Benitez was clear - not even one of Europe's best strikers is sure of a place.

Benitez said: "The players have to compete for their positions in the side, be it Torres or anyone else. Torres has to improve, if he does and he is fit then I will decide what to do, although I expect to be criticised.

"I did not have to explain to Fernando why he was not playing, it was very clear. The team had been playing well and he has to compete for his position. He played well when he came on, but then other players who come on as substitute also did well, not just him.

"That is the key if you want to have a winning mentality and a winning squad.''

Torres will now join up with the Spain squad this week, having played just 105 minutes of football in nearly five weeks since he was injured on international duty.

Benitez said: "Torres will join up with Spain. I am not happy, but I cannot do anything about it. We are talking to international managers and asking them to protect our players.

"We have asked that the Spanish set-up does not take any chances, that they protect the player.''

Benitez did, though, praise referee Rob Styles' decision to disallow a Bolton 'goal' from Gary Cahill because Liverpool keeper Jose Reina's path to the ball had been impeded by Kevin Nolan.

Bolton boss Gary Megson was furious with Styles, who upset the Trotters earlier in the season by incorrectly awarding penalty against them at Manchester United.

Megson insisted that there had been no infringement in the six-yard box against Reina and claimed Styles "had made another mistake''.

Benitez said: "Players in front of the keeper are there to disturb him, and that is wrong. The FIFA rules are for everyone, and that includes in England. They are for everyone.

"It is very difficult for the keeper with a lot of people around him for set-pieces. It was a good decision from the referee to disallow the Bolton 'goal' in the first-half. The rules are very clear and he got them right.''

Megson disagreed, though, saying: "Nolan did not do anything but stand his ground and there's nothing wrong with that.''


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