Aquilani boosted by Kop goal
Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani feels he has finally arrived at Anfield after scoring his first goal in front of the Kop and is keen to have a major say on the remainder of the season.
The £17million summer signing was instrumental in the Reds' 4-1 defeat of Portsmouth Monday night to finally answer many of his critics who have questioned whether he could cut it in the Barclays Premier League. While crisis-club Pompey did not provide much in the way of opposition it provided the Italy international with the chance to show off the talents which have been kept under wraps for so long by manager Rafael Benitez.
On only his fifth Premier League start, and 17th appearance in total, Aquilani scored his first Liverpool goal during a six-minute first-half goalscoring spree and produced a sublime through-ball to set up Fernando Torres' second and the team's fourth in the second half.
He has not yet answered all the questions which were posed on his arrival last summer - including, crucially, whether he can perform against the top sides or in the real heat of a midfield scrap - but feels he is now at a level where he can influence games. "When I arrived, I looked at the Kop and said I wanted to score in front of it," said the 25-year-old, who has been troubled by numerous fitness problems since his arrival from Roma after the departure of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid.
"Now I have done that and I am very happy. But above all, the big thing was that we played well and won," he continued. "It has been a difficult season for me because I have had a lot of injuries but now I feel fit and am right to play. I had a chance against Portsmouth and I had to take it. I have waited a lot of time but I am very happy because we won the game. Can I do better? Everyone can do better, but Fernando [Torres] is a great player and it is easy to play with him and Stevie [Gerrard]."
It remains to be seen whether he will keep his place for Thursday's Europa League visit of Lille, who lead 1-0 from last week's first leg. And his participation in what is likely to be another blood-and-thunder encounter against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday appears even less likely.
But whether his display against Portsmouth will turn out just to be an impressive cameo or the turning of a corner, Aquilani is focused on helping Liverpool improve. "We have to take things step by step now. We can only think about Sunday after Thursday," he added. "We need to win a lot of games to get into the top four and this was the first. It was a really good performance; one that we really needed."
A long-term investment
Benitez stands by his assertion that Aquilani was a signing for the long-term and that people will not see the best of him until possibly next season. But he was pleased to see the player starting to blossom in the Premier League.
"We had Javier Mascherano and Alberto controlling the game and the tempo and that was really good," said the Spaniard of last night's performance. "That will be important [for Aquilani]. He has to improve his match fitness and he has to play. He played 90 minutes against Portsmouth which was a good opportunity for him.
"We will see now [whether he can continue] as we have too many games in a short time so it will be important to have all the players available and ready," said the coach. "He can play some games like Mascherano, Lucas Leiva or Gerrard. It depends on the player, the opposition, and if the player is fit or not. You have to analyse these things together but the great thing, as a manager, you can see the players in every single training session and that is the key for us."
Portsmouth manager Avram Grant vowed to fight on despite problems on and off the pitch, with the club in administration. "I know how to pick up the players when they lose, it is more easy than when there are problems off the pitch," said the Israeli. "I hope that someone will take the club and create some stability because we cannot live from week to week or hour to hour, we need to need where we are going and we have a strategy to make. We are fighting for this club but we need help. Never in my life have I given up and I won't start now but we want to see good things off the pitch."