Liverpool turn to Aquilani to provide missing spark

Reds want £20m man to boost disappointing form in European competition
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It stands as a sign of how desperate Liverpool's cause has become that few recent full debuts have been as eagerly awaited as the one that Alberto Aquilani will make against Fiorentina at Anfield tonight.

An otherwise embarrassingly meaningless Champions League game – Liverpool are already consigned to the second tier Europa League come the new year – has been seized upon as the chance to start over with the £20m Italian playmaker earmarked as the man to provide the missing spark.

It places a huge amount of faith in someone who has managed the underwhelming total of 22 minutes as a substitute since arriving with his injured knee in August. The presence tonight on the bench of Fernando Torres, who could start against Arsenal on Sunday, provides possibly greater cause for optimism at Anfield.

Aquilani will link up with Steven Gerrard in central midfield as Rafa Benitez finally gives the former Roma man his chance. "Match fitness is something you can only improve on in games and we had the plan for him to play in reserve games but now is the right time," said Benitez, who sees the game as an important step towards rediscovering the form to earn them the all-important top-four finish in the Premier League and the accompanying return to the Champions League.

"I am convinced we will have Champions League football back here next season," Benitez said. "We have a good team, a good squad and we can win games in a row now. We have not lost in six and kept three consecutive clean sheets, that is positive and an improvement on what was happening a few weeks ago.

"We have the right experience and I am confident we will finish in the top four, at least. Clearly some players will have an opportunity to impress, including Aquilani, so we have an extra motivation. We can play without pressure, play well and score goals."