Being left out in the cold is hardly an attractive proposition at the moment but some are experiencing it more than others. He may be taking time to adapt to English football and it could well be next season before fans see the best of him, but as Liverpool start to emerge from the cold depths of their current campaign, it is time for Alberto Aquilani to turn up the heat.
The Italian has not had an easy time of it since his big money move from Roma. Liverpool supporters were always aware of Xabi Alonso’s quality and importance to their team, but it took the Spaniard’s departure for some people outside of the club to really take note of his vast influence – similar personnel to those who forever holler the ‘two-man-team’ line, referring to Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres’ dominance down the attacking end of the spine. However, those two headline acts had to be given the protection to enable their influence and when that shield departed for Real Madrid in the summer, comparisons with his replacement were inevitable. Aquilani’s ankle injury, coupled with Liverpool’s poor run of form, made the new signing’s introduction to the team all the more anticipated. Here was the man to fill Alonso’s boots, to wave a magic wand and turn the season around, and get the club motoring back in the right direction.
After his much awaited introduction, the Italian’s influence on the team has been minimal. There have been a few encouraging signs however – a clever pass here, a back heel there. Perhaps the most encouraging sight came when the elegant midfielder took a fearsome knock to the ankle in a tackle from behind by Reading’s Jem Karacan, during last week’s FA Cup third round tie at the Madejski Stadium. Aquilani – who has a history of injury problems – simply grimaced, picked himself off the ground and carried on. If the ice can be cleared away from both the Walton Breck and Anfield Roads in time for tomorrow’s replay, it could be the perfect platform on which the determined Italian can build a successful future.
If the former Roma midfielder has got any nerves then they are certainly not palpable on the surface, with a latest interview portraying Aquilani in typically cool Italian fashion: “I feel reborn and I want to smash the world,” he told an Italian newspaper at the weekend. “It was so hard spending all that time without playing. Believe me, watching your team-mates training and playing while you do nothing but physiotherapy, gym exercises and routines in the swimming pool for rehabilitation, is really difficult. But now that is over, I just want to put it all behind me and not think about anything but playing. If I remain in good health, I know I can play at a high level.”
If he is to reach the high level that he envisages, then tomorrow night’s game is the ideal setting. Aquilani will find himself at Anfield against a team from a lower division who are likely to put a field of men behind the ball, and Rafael Benitez will be hoping that his recent recruit can be the chief creator in opening up a workmanlike unit. The central-midfielder could be a weapon for Liverpool who will attempt to break down a Reading side that will seek to match the levels of determination that they exerted in the first game. The Italian can dictate play, bring others into the game and shoot from distance – all qualities that could help Liverpool showcase their superiority against a lesser side. The postponement of Sunday’s clash with Tottenham Hotspur could be bad news for the Royals – who had their own home game with Newcastle United called off – as the Premier League force will be itching for match action. Thus, Benitez may not feel the need to rest key players – a tactic that has brought him stark criticism during his Anfield career.