Is Aquilani the new Robbie Keane?

Alberto_AquilaniLast season Liverpool signed a player for a fee in the region of £20million despite it being unclear as to how he would fit into their system. After a disappointing start the player fell out of favour and was sold on in January at a loss. That player was Robbie Keane and he goes down as one of Rafa Benitez’s biggest mistakes; this season the story is in danger of being repeated with Alberto Aquilani. The Italian was signed in a deal that could rise to around £21.4 million but has yet to start his first league game for the club.

Of course the player arrived injured and only resumed full training in the middle of October and this has been the main reason for his absence. But it has been two months since his first appearance for the reserves and his league appearances have still been limited. Aquilani’s injury record is grim reading as he missed most of the 06-07 season and most of last season as well. It is understandable that Liverpool do not want to rush him back, but there comes a point where a leap of faith must be taken, he cannot be wrapped in cotton wool forever. There have been times in recent weeks where he has sat on the bench and despite his side looking as if they could benefit from his presence, others have been brought on instead if him. Against Blackburn earlier this month, Liverpool lacked creativity and seemed unable to break down the opposition, yet Aquilani remained rooted to the bench and watched as Nabil El Zhar was sent on to add a spark.

During Robbie Keane’s time at Liverpool it became clear that Benitez preferred to play Torres on his own up front with support from three midfielders; this led to Keane being played out of position. As he fell out of favour, less established players moved ahead of him in the pecking order and it was soon obvious that Benitez had lost faith in him. It is always a gamble signing a player as there are no guarantees; in both Keane’s and Aquilani’s cases it is possible that upon seeing the players first-hand on a regular basis in training, perhaps Benitez hasn’t seen what he had hoped for.

Aquilani’s other problem is that Benitez prefers to play with two defensive midfielders and his best position in the current Liverpool formation is occupied by Steven Gerrard. Gerrard is woefully short of form at the moment but it is unlikely that he will be dropped any time soon. Benitez has commented on Aquilani’s showings in trainings, saying that he is impressed by his passing range but that he needs to improve on his tackling. If the manager intends to transform Aquilani into a defensive midfielder to partner either Mascherano or Lucas, it may be a while yet before he can make a full contribution to the first team. Aquilani is at his best further up the pitch where he can pick out a pass or shoot from range.

It is too soon to say whether or not the gamble on Aquilani has paid off or not, and Benitez should be praised for not throwing the Italian in as the pressure mounts on him. But questions are beginning to be asked about the midfielder’s role at the club. He must start a league game soon; there is no reason not to give him the chance. It is not as if the current midfield is playing particularly well. If the current situation is prolonged, Aquilani may be seen as this season’s Robbie Keane.

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Article title: Is Aquilani the new Robbie Keane?

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