English Premier League

Aquilani Speaks

It would be over three months before he wore the jersey again

After taking three months longer than expected to reach full health, Alberto Aquilani says he is prepared to lead Liverpool to a top four finish. He spoke this weekend about his role going forwards and the long shadow of Xabi Alonso:

“Xabi and I are two very different kinds of player.

“He is a much better playmaker, the one who starts the play.

“I like to get hold of the ball more and go inside or perhaps shoot after a ‘give and go’ with a midfield partner such as Stevie Gerrard or a striker like Fernando Torres, who is a magician when it comes to opening up space.”

Aquilani adds that in his preseason conversations with Steven Gerrard and Rafa Benitez, he was told that the Liverpool offense ran through Xabi Alonso and that he would be taking on the formidable burden of moving the ball from the defensive to the offensive third of the field, something Alonso accomplished through pinpoint passes of intermediate and exceptionally long length.

Alonso welcomed by Real Madrid

Since moving from Roma to Liverpool for a price somewhere around 20 million pounds, Alberto Aquilani has started a total of two league games for the Reds. Touted by Rafael Benitez as the natural replacement for Xabi Alonso in the Liverpool midfield, Aquilani has been neat, careful, and consistently mediocre thus far. Many a pundit has already dismissed the Italian as the bust of the season in the Premier League, but they forget about Glen Johnson; Liverpool’s only major change in the back has big offensive ability and awful defensive positioning.

Recovering from ankle surgery

Aquilani is a good player trying to fill the shoes of a midfielder in Alonso who took the better part of four seasons finding his ideal role spraying the ball around the park so Liverpool’s offensive juggernaut Gerrorres wouldn’t have to work the ball into the final third themselves.

Lucas, aka Really!? REALLY!?

The other major hurdle Aquilani faces may have popped up on this site once or twice before: Leiva Lucas. Even the casual soccer fan has asked the perplexing question, “What is he doing out there?” The Brazilian midfielder, who most certainly has a collection of Polaroids featuring Benitez showing human emotion (or some other form of blackmail), does not provide the cover that Aquilani needs to play his game – a game of short passes and lots of movement in the final third. While Argentinian water sprite Javier Mascherano should be able to sweep the midfield with proper aplomb, Benitez has been loathe to remove Lucas from the starting eleven. Aquilani subtly gave his opinion on Lucas’ role:

“With me just in front of Javier Mascherano and Steven Gerrard just behind the front man, we now have even more solutions in midfield.”

For anybody who has watched Liverpool play this year, it’s obvious that their offense begins and ends with Gerrard and Torres. Benayoun has the ability to complement the dynamic duo, but he has been inconsistent when deployed on the wing, which is where he’ll have to live now that Aquilani is healthy and Gerrard is slotting in behind Torres.

“In the early part of the season, we struggled a bit because I was injured and the team lacked this midfield geometry. [My presence] is the manager’s fantasy.”

One could argue that Benitez’s real fantasy was imagining that he had a top four-level team when the season began.

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