Benitez cheered by Aquilani debut

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez feels Alberto Aquilani has already shown just what an asset he will prove to be after finally making his long-awaited debut.

The Italian, signed in the summer from Roma for £20million, has been recovering from a broken ankle, but was introduced for the final 15 minutes of last night's 2-1 Carling Cup defeat at Arsenal.

Aquilani saw plenty of the ball during his brief cameo, and could feel somewhat aggrieved not to have been awarded a late penalty when his overhead kick appeared to hit defender Philippe Senderos on the arms.

Even though the Reds were beaten by Nicklas Bendtner's strike at the start of the second half after defender Emiliano Insua had cancelled out Fran Merida's opener, Benitez preferred to reflect on the positives.

"There were a lot of players showing passion, character and quality on the pitch - and Aquilani was one of these player," said the Liverpool manager.

"He has the quality, but he needs to improve his match-fitness.

"You can see he can pass the ball in the final third, he can make a big difference.

"He gets closer every day, but still has to improve his match-fitness. It is a question of time.

"I think that he will be an important player for us.

"We want to push him, but we cannot push too hard as we know that will be a risk.

"So we will keep going, keep working and add more minutes every game."

Like the hosts, Liverpool had made several changes from the team which beat Manchester United in the Barclays Premier League on Sunday, with Dirk Kuyt, captain last night, the only survivor from the starting XI at Anfield.

Benitez maintains momentum has not been lost following the euphoria of victory over their arch rivals.

"It is always very disappointing to be out of any competition, but at least to do it in this way, playing well and with a lot of positives, it is a little bit better than to lose playing badly," he said.

"It was a good performance by the team against a good Arsenal side, and was a good game for the fans."

Striker Fernando Torres could be fit for the trip to Fulham, although captain Steven Gerrard may struggle.

"Both have to keep going. Gerrard is still working with the physio so we will see," Benitez said.

"Hopefully Torres will be okay, but for Gerrard maybe it is more difficult."

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