Aquilani versatility pleases Benitez

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The Independent Online

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez believes midfielder Alberto Aquilani may be able to flourish if he is given more freedom and less responsibility.

The £17million summer signing from Roma has had an indifferent start to his Anfield career as an ankle injury prevented him from making his Barclays Premier League debut until early November.

Even by then Liverpool's struggles were obvious and it was not as easy to fit the Italy international into a side which was desperately trying to claw back lost ground.

His appearances since then have been fleeting and mostly from the substitutes' bench, leading to criticism Benitez had bought a player unsuited to English football.

In Sunday's 4-0 win at Burnley Aquilani played in captain Steven Gerrard's usual position as the advanced midfielder just behind the striker and his passes set up Gerrard's second and Maxi Rodriguez's maiden Liverpool goal.

Gerrard dropped back to a more orthodox central role but that did not hinder the England international from getting forward to score twice.

Benitez was pleased with the way the tactic worked, albeit against a team whose relegation was confirmed by the defeat, and felt Aquilani showed promise.

"It is an option. He can play in both positions," said the Liverpool boss when asked if the Italian had a future in a more advanced role.

"In the first year, especially because he has been injured for a long time, to manage him and find the right position for him was not easy because the Premier League is very strong and physical.

"But in this position he has freedom and with Gerrard behind him they can pass to each other.

"Aquilani can pass the ball and when the game is open like in the second half (against Burney) he can move and give good assists."

However, Aquilani may have to settle for a place on the bench again for Thursday's crucial Europa League semi-final second leg against Atletico Madrid.

Trailing 1-0 from last week, Liverpool have to keep a clean sheet as well as score if they do not want to make life even more difficult for themselves.

That points to Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva lining up in central midfield with Gerrard reverting to his more attacking position, which could be even more important as strikers David Ngog (back) and Dirk Kuyt (calf) are both injury doubts.

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