£20m Aquilani closes on Liverpool debut

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The Independent Football

Alberto Aquilani may make his Liverpool debut before the end of this month. The Italian midfielder, a £20m summer signing to fill the gap in the Anfield squad left by Xabi Alonso, is finally allowed to kick a ball in training as his recovery from a knee operation continues.

The Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez signed the Italy international, knowing he would not be able to play for a minimum of three months. But Aquilani started ball work with the first-team squad last week and has stepped up his training since then.

Benitez will carefully monitor the 25-year-old's progress and he will not be considered for the match against Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday week. Aquilani has not played a competitive game since Arsenal beat his old club Roma in the Champions League in March.

Liverpool reserves have a match against Sunderland at home next Wednesday, and he may get a short run-out then. But there is a possibility that he could be used at some point during the Carling Cup tie at Arsenal on 28 October.

Aquilani said: "When I am back, I hope I will show I am a player who can pass the ball well, get forward and score goals. I have not played football for a long time, so I know it will not be easy to produce my best straightaway. But I will be trying to do that.

"When you are not involved with the team, it is not a good feeling. But it is my ambition to score at the Kop end. I have thought about that a lot during my rehab period."

Captain Steven Gerrard had treatment yesterday on the groin injury that forced his return from England duty and he is due to have a scan on the problem. But Liverpool are confident he will be able to face Sunderland on Saturday.

In the blue half of the city, Phil Jagielka has moved a significant step closer to a first-team comeback after being out for six months following a cruciate knee injury.

The Everton and England defender suffered the injury against Manchester City in April and missed the Toffees' FA Cup final appearance at Wembley against Chelsea. But the centre-back has at last been given permission this week to resume training with a football. Now Jagielka, 27, is expected to come into first-team contention by the middle of next month.

Everton's head physio Mick Rathbone said: "We are very pleased with Phil and he is doing some good quality ball work now. When we talk about the recovery time from a cruciate injury the absolute minimum is six months.

"The surgeon will not let a player go into any type of contact work for at least six months, then you have to add on time to build fitness and play reserve games. So you are looking at over seven months for a quick comeback."