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Dec, 9, 2009

Benitez rubbishes Aquilani frustration rumours

Rafael Benitez has rubbished reports in Italy that Alberto Aquilani has been frustrated at a lack of playing time as the £20million midfielder prepares to make his first start for Liverpool against Fiorentina on Wednesday night.

Fernando Torres is also likely to feature after recovering from a groin injury as Benitez uses the Champions League Group E dead rubber to prepare his team for the Premier League clash with Arsenal.

Benitez admitted Aquilani has been ready to play, but that he didn't want to risk his star summer signing in the high-tempo Premier League games away to Everton and Blackburn as he returned from a long-term knee injury he sustained with previous club Roma.

Reports in Italy quoted Aquilani's father as claiming his son has been fit to play for a month - but Benitez said he doubted the validity of such news.

"Aquilani was a little surprised to hear critical comments supposedly from his father on why he was not playing here - he does not believe they are accurate,'' Benitez said. "He understands why he has not played much yet, he has not been fit and now needs match fitness.

"He needs to get used to the English game and it would have been a risk to play him in such tough games as at Everton and Blackburn. But we are out of the Champions League, he can play against Fiorentina and get used to things better without so much pressure. We can now see how he will react.''

Benitez could not have asked for a more ideal match to ease Aquilani back than this dead rubber, with Fiorentina already qualified and Liverpool certain to finish third - although the manager would obviously rather be challenging for a place in the knockout rounds.

"Of course I am disappointed with this situation,'' he said. "Over the last five years we have always qualified for the last 16, sometimes before the last group game. Now we are experiencing totally different feelings, but it is done now, we cannot change the position we are in.

"We now must think about the future, to do our best in the Premier League and the Europa League. We want to win every game in front of our fans at Anfield, we must do well and then win against Arsenal here on Sunday.''

Benitez is certain Liverpool will be back among Europe's elite next season.

"I am convinced we will have Champions League football back here next season,'' he added. "We have not lost in six and kept three consecutive clean sheets. We must concentrate on the positives, then we must take steps forward. We are doing that.''

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