to come from
Liverpool's Little Prince
Comment by James Pearce - Liverpool Echo
There has been a banner in the corner of
the Kop this season saluting the arrival of Alberto
It proudly states ‘Il Principino – A Hero Has Arrived’ and
depicts the Italian as a gladiator ready for battle.
It’s been about the only chance Liverpool supporters have
had to see the lesser-spotted midfielder at Anfield over the
past four months.
However, last night they finally got to have a proper look
at the player dubbed the ‘Little Prince’ by the Roma fans
who adored him.
This is who Rafa Benitez deemed worthy of splashing half of
his summer transfer kitty on. The man tasked with filling
the massive void created by Xabi Alonso’s move to Real
Madrid and transforming a miserable campaign in which one
crushing setback has swiftly followed another.
Aquilani didn’t set the world alight on his full Liverpool
debut, but his promising 75-minute display at least provided
some much needed cheer on another European night which had a
bitter late twist in the tale.
Since the 25-year-old made the switch from Roma in a
£18million deal back in August and signed a five-year
contract he’s had to endure one long tale of woe.
Rehabilitation following the ankle surgery he underwent back
in May took much longer than anticipated.
Then a virus handed him another setback, while his bid to
prove to Benitez he’s in good enough physical condition for
action has been painfully slow going.
Last night’s first start arrived some 124 days after he
first signed on the dotted line and seven weeks to the day
since he pulled on a red shirt for the first time in a
reserve team fixture against Sunderland.
The combined sum of his first team career since that run out
at Prenton Park had been 25 minutes with a late cameo at
Arsenal in the Carling Cup followed by even briefer outings
against Birmingham and Debrecen.
Benitez has not so much wrapped his prized signing in cotton
wool as put him in polystyrene blocks and covered him in
The message from the manager had been clear. He wouldn’t
risk a player who wasn’t match fit in finely balanced games.
Benitez believed it wouldn’t do Aquilani or the team any
Games against Everton and Blackburn were deemed too tight
and too physical for him so he was left kicking his heels on
the bench and told he needed to build up his fitness.
To his credit, Aquilani has remained patient and kept his
thoughts to himself but his father, Claudio, recently
revealed the family’s frustration and insisted: “The only
way he can get truly fit is to start games.”
Benitez finally set him loose last night and there were
flashes of star quality.
It was a glimpse of the future as Lucas was given the night
off and Aquilani was paired in the middle of the park with
Javier Mascherano. The pair appear to complement each other
A sweetly struck pass to countryman Andrea Dossena eased any
early nerves and then Aquilani just failed to climb high
enough at the back post to convert Emiliano Insua’s deep
His movement was clever and he expertly drifted into space
to pick up Dirk Kuyt’s pass before being out-muscled in the
There was some classy touches and he spread play
intelligently. One delightful back-heel into Steven
Gerrard’s path midway through the first half turned defence
Aquilani also showed he’s not shy of a tackle with a couple
of tasty clashes with Riccardo Montolivo, while his only
sight of goal resulted in his 30-yard scorcher being
In the second half he faded but with so little football
under his belt that was hardly a surprise. The standing
ovation when he was replaced by Daniel Pacheco with 15
minutes to go was richly deserved.
Of course, this wasn’t the most testing of examinations for
Aquilani against a depleted Fiorentina side in a dead
A subdued atmosphere hung over Anfield all night and the
only sense of anticipation surrounded the chance to see the
It was ironic that having been tempted to make the switch to
Merseyside by the prospect of being involved in famous
European nights, he would start off by appearing in one that
meant absolutely nothing.
Aquilani has returned too late to save Liverpool’s Champions
League campaign but he has a crucial role to play in
ensuring they take part in next season’s competition.
The past four months have given him plenty of time to study
the physical and frenetic nature of Premier League football.
A run of just three wins in the last 14 games says it all.
The Reds are in desperate need of inspiration and creativity
and they need Aquilani to provide it.
Benitez: Reds' season starts now
Manager Rafael Benitez hopes the
culmination of Liverpool's Champions League campaign can
lead to "the beginning of a new season" for the Reds.
Liverpool were out of the competition before final Group E
game against Fiorentina at Anfield, but the manner of the
2-1 defeat summed up their whole Champions League campaign
Benitez has now seen his side concede three damaging late
goals - in both matches against Lyon, and now Fiorentina.
That has cost Liverpool dearly as the French and Italian
sides move on into the last 16.
Liverpool are destined for the Europa League, and they have
now been told by UEFA that they will not be seeded in that
Benitez said: "The result and the way it happened just about
sums up our Champions League campaign. Another last minute
goal, and we are disappointed with that for the third time
in this group.
"We are still trying to see the positives, we are playing
better and we must now must take that into a very important
game at home to Arsenal. It is the beginning of a new season
for us now, I hope.
"We will not be seeded in the Europa League, we must cope
with that and be strong to handle what ever comes our way
"Now we must be ready for the next game on Sunday. We worked
so hard, we had chances, so they are the only positives that
we can take from the game."
Boss Benitez was happy, though, with the full debut of
£20million midfielder Alberto Aquilani, and the return from
injury of Fernando Torres.
He said: "To see Aquilani, to see Torres, those were the
real positive things for the next match and the rest of our
"Aquilani showed his quality, his touch was good. His vision
and passing were good, but obviously he will have to work on
his match fitness.
"Everyone is available for Sunday, if he trains well he
could well be involved against Arsenal.
worried for Reds
By Carl Markham - Press Association Sport
Former Liverpool captain and manager
Graeme Souness fears the club could go into "meltdown" after
they finished their Champions League campaign with their
lowest points haul.
A stoppage-time 2-1 defeat to Fiorentina at Anfield left
Rafael Benitez's side, who were already unable to progress
to the knockout phase, with just seven points from six
And although they will now drop into the Europa League, with
their Barclays Premier League form also disappointing there
is a real danger they could not be involved in Europe's top
club competition next season.
Souness, who won the European Cup three times with
Liverpool, captaining them to victory in 1984, has grave
concerns about what failing to progress in the Champions
League this season could mean for his club.
"I fear they are in meltdown. If they don't reach the
Champions League next year the best players won't want to
play for Liverpool," he said.
"That would be the first time in as long as I can remember.
They are hundreds of millions of pounds in debt and they
need a new stadium to keep up with the rest and just stand
"Every year they are dropping off the pace so they need a
"If they don't get to the Champions League the banks will be
knocking on the door wanting to replace the income stream
that the Champions League would give them.
"All those scenarios are frightening for Liverpool
"I can't see them becoming a Leeds United because I think
there will always be someone out there, whether it be a
Russian or someone from the Middle East, who deep down is a
big fan and would get them out of a hole - a saviour if you
Souness said the priority now must be securing a top-four
place in the league despite the lure of silverware
"I think there is real danger. They have to look at the
second half of the season," he told Sky Sports.
"The Europa League means nothing to Liverpool. I'm a
Liverpool supporter and I would love them to finish in the
top four and win the Europa League and FA Cup.
"But if there was a choice of those three it would be to
finish in the top four.
"If you are looking to move your club forward you have to
encourage the best players to come to your club.
"If they are not in the Champions League that won't happen
because you won't have the same income coming into the club.
"If you are already in debt the banks will put pressure on
Liverpool because they want money from somewhere to lessen
the debt they have right now."
Campaign not good enough
Steven Gerrard admitted Liverpool's
Champions League campaign was "not good enough" after they
ended it with a 2-1 home defeat to Fiorentina.
Yossi Benayoun's glancing header gave his side the lead
shortly before half-time at Anfield but Martin Jorgensen
equalised with a low left-footed shot in the 63rd minute and
Alberto Gilardino snatched a winner two minutes into added
Gerrard told Sky Sports 2: "If you look at the whole
campaign, it was not good enough from our point of view but
now we need to try to qualify for the same competition next
"It wasn't our strongest team but we gave a good account of
"We were a bit unlucky to lose in the end.
"There was not much in it as far as points were concerned.
It was just about getting this game out of the way and
trying to get good preparation for the game against Arsenal
With the Reds having already failed to qualify for the
knockout stages the only positives from a lacklustre
encounter were a 76-minute run-out for Alberto Aquilani and
the return from injury of striker Fernando Torres after a
Gerrard took heart from the performance of summer signing
"He's done well," said the skipper. "It's going to take him
a while until he gets up to speed as far as match fitness is
"But the boy's a player, there's no two ways about it. He
sees a pass, he's on the same wavelength and I have no
doubts he'll turn into a fantastic player for this club."
On the prospect of playing in the Europa League, Gerrard
added: "It's another cup to try to win. The final is at
Hamburg, a fantastic stadium. We'll try to win it now."
Reds beaten as Viola top group
Liverpool's miserable Champions League
campaign ended in defeat as they were beaten 2-1 by Group E
winners Fiorentina at Anfield on Wednesday.
The visitors grabbed a late winner through Alberto Gilardino
in the second minute of added time to clinch top spot.
Looking at the positives, Liverpool started with Alberto
Aquilani at last - and Fernando Torres returned from a groin
injury for the final 25 minutes.
Yossi Benayoun's first-half header gave Liverpool hope in a
game they largely controlled, but defensive uncertainty gave
Martin Jorgensen the chance to drive home the equaliser in
the second period.
Fiorentina, aware that Lyon were hammering Debrecen,
realised they needed to win to make sure of top spot in the
group, and they piled on some belated pressure.
It paid off and Liverpool were to suffer yet another late
goal disaster. It had happened in both games against Lyon,
and now Fiorentina struck to steal their win in injury time.
Substitute Juan Vargas set up Gilardino for a fierce finish
that sent the Fiorentina fans wild, and the club's coaching
staff into delirious jigs of delight.
Liverpool rested Jamie Carragher, Jose Reina, Glen Johnson
and Lucas and would have left out Dirk Kuyt had David Ngog
not been taken ill earlier in the day.
Youngster Stephen Darby had a rare run-out at right-back,
while Italian defender Andrea Dossena was used in the
unlikely role of left-midfield.
The Italians, already secure in the last 16, were missing
Stevan Jovetic, their most exciting attacker who scored both
goals in their 2-0 home win over Liverpool in September.
The Montenegro international failed a late fitness test on
an ankle injury which meant Fiorentina fielding only three
of the starting line-up from the first match.
Another of Liverpool's support cast, second-choice
goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri was soon into action as he raced
from his line to block Cesare Natali's run onto a weak
Daniel Agger back pass.
Aquilani was neat and inventive, but Liverpool failed to
create anything significant before their Brazilian
goalkeeper saved well from Lorenzo De Silvestri and Riccardo
Montolivo to keep his side on level terms.
The game, sometimes with almost a testimonial feel about it,
meandered on towards the break before Liverpool found
themselves ahead after 43 minutes.
Manuel Pasqual's foul on Steven Gerrard gave the Liverpool
captain the chance to lift a free-kick towards the near post
for Yossi Benayoun to flick a header back into the far
corner, despite Sebastien Frey getting a touch on the
Liverpool dominated the early stages after the break, but
were punished for poor judgement by Martin Skrtel, who
allowed a cross-field pass to drift past him.
Darby was left facing two attackers, and could do little to
stop captain Martin Jorgensen driving home the equaliser
after 63 minutes.
Torres had been standing on the touchline waiting to come on
while all this was going on, and he eventually arrived
before the restart for Kuyt.
Benitez maintains that with Torres fit, Liverpool would
never have been in the position of European also-rans.
Torres tried his best to prove the point with some fine
There had been occasional glimpses of Aquilani's talent, but
he was taken off to give reserve striker Daniel Pacheco his
The 18-year-old is rated very highly by Benitez, and joined
Torres in an all-Spanish front pairing.
Fabio Aurelio replaced the hard-working Javier Mascherano
near the end, with Fiorentina searching for the crucial
winner that would win the group.
It arrived in added time and left Liverpool with their
worst-ever Champions League group points tally.