Frustrated Benitez hits out at €20m Aquilani for being a 'softie'
The French have a saying that the absent are always wrong and, as the smoke from the flares cleared at the Estadio da Luz on Thursday night, attention began to focus on three of Rafael Benitez's big signings who should have been on the pitch at the end of a bitter, controversial -- if not disastrous -- match.
As he has been for most of his time on Merseyside, Alberto Aquilani was unfit, having injured his ankle in training before the Liverpool squad flew to Lisbon.
As he reflected on a 2-1 defeat by Benfica, triggered by Ryan Babel's dismissal, Benitez said there were some players who had the mental strength to play through injuries. Aquilani, he suggested, was not one of them.
"He was complaining of a pain in his ankle and said he couldn't train," said the Liverpool manager. "We will have a talk with the doctors to see what is going on because we don't know. It is the same ankle he did before.
"Some players can manage with the pain and some, when they have pain, cannot. It depends on each individual."
Benitez has protected Aquilani -- for whom he paid Roma €20m -- against some of the more nakedly aggressive Premier League teams, but his patience is clearly running out with the Italian. Albert Riera is also in the bad books.
At his best, as he was when helping to ensure Spain qualified for the World Cup without dropping a point, Riera would have been an automatic selection for Thursday's match. However, comments he made before Liverpool's previous Europa League trip to Lille that the club was "a sinking ship" ensured he would play no part in this one.
Now that his transfer to Spartak Moscow, where he could expect to double his Liverpool salary, has run into the ground, his comments that "Liverpool are one of the best clubs in the world" cut little ice with his manager.
"We still have some time before the end of the Russian transfer window so we will see," said Benitez. "I did not see his latest comments but for me when he was talking (about Liverpool being a sinking ship) on the day before a massive game against Lille, was disappointing. It was especially so when he was saying things that were not true. I was really surprised."
Anger would better reflect Benitez's feeling about Ryan Babel, whose foolishness in trying to shut up the Benfica captain, Luisao, by putting his hand over the Brazilian's mouth after he had upended Fernando Torres, was met by a red card from the referee, forcing Liverpool to play with 10 men for an hour. (© Independent News Service)