Sport Soccer

Saturday 16 December 2017

Benitez looks to reassure Aquilani but won't promise playing time

Rory Smith

Rafael Benitez has sought to reassure Alberto Aquilani about his Liverpool future despite admitting that he cannot afford to risk the pursuit of the final Champions League slot by granting the Italian the playing time he needs to adapt to the Premier League.

Aquilani, a £17m signing from Roma, has made only seven starts since recovering from the ankle injury which ruled him out last year, and has completed a full game once in seven months.

That failure to secure a regular role has led to speculation that Juventus are considering offering the Italian passage home this summer, but Benitez says Aquilani knows what the situation is.

"It is not easy for a player when you have been injured," he said. "Alberto is not stupid. He knows the priority now has to be what is best for the team. All he can do is keep training and make sure he is ready when we need him.

"But we have had a conversation about things and he knows the situation. Alberto is a very good professional, who was a big name in Italy and wants to show his quality here."

Benitez will welcome Glen Johnson back into his squad against Wigan tonight. The defender has been out since December with a knee injury. The Liverpool boss will warn his players against complacency by pointing to December's defeat at Portsmouth.

Having beaten the Latics three days previously, the Reds travelled to Fratton Park to face the Premier League's bottom side only to be beaten 2-0.

Liverpool have lost just once since then -- at Arsenal -- to haul themselves back into the race for Champions League qualification.

At the other end of the table Wigan are embroiled in a relegation battle after just one win in 13 matches, but Benitez is wary of reading too much into that statistic.

"In the Premier League you don't have too many easy games. Wigan are a club fighting for relegation so it will be very difficult for us," he said.

"Because Wigan are at the bottom of the table people will say 'You have to win this game', but we know it is not just this one... we have to be ready for every game.

"If you analyse the position in the table you maybe say it is easy, but we have the experience of (going to) Portsmouth so we know we have to be really focussed for the game.''

Nothing less than a victory at Wigan will suffice, in all likelihood, as after tonight's game Liverpool have have played one more match than Tottenham -- whom they would have a two-point advantage over if they win -- two more than Manchester City and three more than Aston Villa.

Benitez feels there are plenty more twists and turns to come, but knows Liverpool have to take care of their own interests first and foremost. "We have to see the situation in the table every week because you cannot change what other teams do," he said.

"It depends on the other teams too. No-one was expecting the top teams to lose so many games.''

Wigan v Liverpool

Live, ESPN, 8.0

Irish Independent

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