Aquilani appearance a relief for Benitez

Alberto Aquilani's first appearance in a Liverpool shirt last night finally gave Rafael Benitez something to be pleased about after a nightmare week that has seen his management at Anfield openly questioned.

Italian midfielder Aquilani was signed for £20million in August, but has been recovering from a knee operation ever since.

With Liverpool in their worst slump for 22 years, Aquilani's arrival on the scene has been desperately needed.

Last night at Tranmere's Prenton Park he came on as a 75th-minute substitute in the reserves' 2-0 win over Sunderland.

He survived unscathed, but he is not being considered for Sunday's Premier League home clash with Manchester United.

Benitez needs a victory in that match to lift the pressure on him, but it is unlikely captain Steven Gerrard will be risked again after a recurrence of his groin injury during Tuesday's Champions League home defeat by Lyon.

Striker Fernando Torres is, however, expected to return against United after a groin injury, and England full-back Glen Johnson has declared himself fit after a similar injury also kept him out against Lyon.

Johnson said: "The injury is a lot better, I will be all right for Sunday.

"We did not test it in training, just soft tissue work and massage, but it seems a lot freer than it did on Tuesday.

"I think Fernando might be all right for Sunday, but I am not too sure about Stevie."

Benitez said: "Steven is suffering from the same injury he has had before. And Fernando will be working hard with the physios."

Suggestions Benitez could be sacked are well wide of the mark. He signed a new four-year contract in March and has astutely made a string of key appointments on the coaching and academy staff since then to strength his position.

He has also been mindful of the rift between co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Hicks has been a strong supporter of the manager while Gillett has criticised Benitez's spending this season.

But both would have to agree on any move to axe Benitez, and that is highly unlikely in the current climate.

Benitez has also received support from former Liverpool boss Roy Evans, who said: "The results have put a lot of pressure on him. But you cannot always blame the manager, players have to improve.

"They have had four games without a win and people are starting to get on his back, managers do take responsibility but sometimes it is the players who have to look at themselves.

"They are playing for Liverpool and they are not at their best. It is not just about the manager, it is about the players improving and the fans getting behind the man in charge."

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