Sam Wallace: Liverpool need Aquilani to rescue poor start

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The Independent Online

It could only be the rollercoaster Liverpool regime of Rafael Benitez where the season has not yet reached the end of August and already it feels like time is running out. The brutal truth is that only one team – Manchester United in 1992-93 – have won the Premier League title having, like Liverpool, lost two out of their first three games.

But it would not be Benitez if he did not choose to do things the difficult way and, after a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa, the Liverpool manager elected not to take the bait when asked about his frustrations on the limits of his spending this summer. When asked about the big picture at the club, Benitez, as he so often does, immersed himself in the micro-detail of small mistakes and misfortune.

It is Xabi Alonso's absence that is the issue du jour as far as Liverpool are concerned but it is debatable exactly what difference he might have made on Monday. The real problem was a curiously lacklustre Steven Gerrard and the new angry version of Fernando Torres who seems to have developed a temper over the summer that makes him less effective than when he treated every challenge with haughty indifference.

More than anything, the Villa defeat demonstrated the need for urgency in the recovery of £18m signing Alberto Aquilani, whose rehabilitation from ankle surgery is not expected to be complete until the end of next month.

The performance on Monday showed that – never mind Alonso – when Liverpool cannot rely upon Gerrard and Torres there is not another creative spark who might be able to conjure up something in a difficult situation. Aquilani with a brilliant right-foot shot and a physical game despite his diminutive stature can make things happen. Having a new crowd favourite in the team would shake things up nicely and Gerrard always performs better when he thinks there is a rival for his No 1 billing.

The players themselves insisted that they had not given up hope. "I definitely believe that teams like Aston Villa and Tottenham and Manchester City will take points off the so-called big four this season," Glen Johnson said. "Obviously this is not the start to the season that we wanted but it was only the third game and there is a long way to go.

There will be no acquisitions before Tuesday's transfer deadline, and the only new face at Anfield on Monday was the Greek defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos in the stand – his paltry £1.5m fee takes Benitez's summer spending to about £38m, little more than the total sum earned on Alonso and Sebastian Leto's sales.

Until Aquilani returns, it looks like Liverpool are stuck with Lucas Leiva whose own goal and poor performance only seemed to make Benitez more loyal to him. In the past the manager has been quick and ruthless in bundling his bad signings out of the club. On Monday night Benitez leapt to the Brazilian midfielder's defence for the second time this season, saying he believed "100 per cent" in the player's strength of character. The sad truth is that until Aquilani's long-awaited debut he has precious few other options.

Out of the title race? Slow starters at a loss

Two losses from three Man United are the only team to have won the Premier League after losing two of their first three, in the 92-93 season.

One loss from three United and Arsenal are the only two teams to have won the Premier League after losing one of their opening three games.

Top four finishers Newcastle and Liverpool are the only two sides to have finished in the top four after losing two of their opening three games.

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