LONDON: Liverpool and Ireland legend Ronnie Whelan believes the end of Rafael Benitez's reign at Anfield is in sight after the club's stuttering start to the season.

Whelan, who won six English titles in his playing days at Anfield, has accused Benitez of putting success in Europe before the club's quest for Premier League glory.

And he believes Saturday's 3-1 defeat at Fulham, which left Liverpool nine points adrift of league leaders Chelsea, could signal the beginning of the end for the Spaniard.

"It's all gone wrong with the manager and he's shown exactly where his priorities lie," Whelan told Ireland's RTE Television

"He wants to win the European Cup so he can get a job in Europe. For me, his days have got to be numbered at Liverpool."

Whelan's criticism was sparked by Benitez's decision to substitute Fernando Torres after an hour at Craven Cottage because of concern over the groin injury the Spanish striker is carrying.

Benitez desperately needs Torres to be fit for Wednesday's Champions League trip to Lyon, where a defeat would probably end Liverpool's chances of progressing to the group stages.

Despite that, Whelan was adamant that Benitez should have kept Torres on the pitch on Saturday.

"He's taken players off who are the only players who are going to give you a chance of winning the game," he said. "And he drags them all off because he's got a game on Wednesday.

"When I saw the team I thought he's not bothered about this game. He's putting all his eggs in one basket and I can't see why he's done it."

Benitez defended his decision to withdraw Torres from the fray with the score standing at 1-1, pointing out that there had been a major doubt over whether the striker would play any role in the match.

"We will see in the next couple of days how he is going to react to this," Benitez said. "We knew it was going to be difficult for him to play and we had to decide.

"The other day (against Manchester United), he played 80 minutes but needed four days to recover. He still has some problems but we had to decide whether to start with him (at Fulham) or use him from the bench.

"We decided that it was better to start with him, so he could warm-up properly. It was a difficult decision, as we knew it could be a risk and we might lose him for even more time.

"We kept him on for 60 minutes then tried to protect the player. I prefer to lose a player for 20 or 30 minutes, not one month."

Liverpool were missing 11 players for Saturday's match as a result of the worst injury crisis Benitez has known since he joined the club in 2004.

The manager is resigned to again being without England duo Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson for the trip to Lyon.

But he hoping that summer signing Alberto Aquilani will have shaken off the effects of a virus and that Fabio Aurelio and Daniel Agger will recover sufficiently from calf and back problems respectively to play in France.