Aquilani makes Liverpool debut

LONDON - After three months of waiting patiently, Liverpool fans finally got to see Alberto Aquilani make his first team debut on Wednesday.

The 25-year-old Italian international, signed from AS Roma in pre-season for a reported 20 million pounds, brought Liverpool fans to their feet as a late substitute in a 2-1 League Cup defeat at Arsenal's Emirates stadium.

Brought in as a replacement for Xabi Alonso, now at Real Madrid, manager Rafa Benitez has been starved of his services until Wednesday thanks to pre-season ankle surgery.

"I felt that the worst thing today was the defeat but there were a lot of players who show passion, character and quality on the pitch and Aquilani was one of them," Benitez told Reuters.

"He showed the quality he has, he needs to improve his fitness but you can see that he can pass the ball, in the final third he can be a big difference."

Expectations have grown steadily since Aquilani's 15-minute appearance in a recent reserve match and after stepping out at Arsenal for a similar spell fans would have liked what they saw.

The tall centre midfielder, who warmed-up eagerly for most of the first-half to the delight of the travelling support, showed some excellent touches and almost forced a late equaliser with an acrobatic effort following a goalmouth scramble.

"For us he will be an important player because we need the quality and he is this kind of player," Benitez added.

"We want to push him but we cannot push too hard because we know that it will be a risk so we keep working and then see if he can have more minutes in every game."

Two seasons ago, however it could have been Aquilani running out for the other side after Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger revealed they had been interested in him before injury problems robbed him of most of last season for Roma.

"We were interested in Aquilani the year before, but last year he didn't play a lot and we didn't feel that this year we needed a player in this position," Wenger told reporters.

Back in the Premier League title race after last Sunday's 2-0 defeat of rivals Manchester United, Liverpool will be hoping his presence will maintain newfound momentum and deliver a change of fortune in the Champions League having lost two of their three Group E matches this season.

"We concentrate on trying to improve the team... with players like Aquilani coming in and helping the team I think we will still improve," Benitez said.