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Dec 12, 2009

Masch: Aquilani ready to fill Alonso boots

Javier Mascherano has seen enough of Alberto Aquilani to be convinced he has the qualities to make Liverpool fans stop ruing the departure of Xabi Alonso.

Aquilani finally made his starting debut in the Champions League in midweek, and Mascherano believes his fellow midfielder's return to full fitness will see the end of a period where it seems Alonso's absence has been the biggest presence on the Anfield pitch.

Mascherano said: "We have to forget Alonso. You cannot find two players doing the same things in the world. Aquilani will give us everything he can and if he is fit he will be really good for us. Now little by little he'll increase his confidence and learn about English football, because it's totally different, but I think he will be really good for Liverpool.''

Mascherano is aware that when Aquilani gains full fitness after an ankle operation, the competition for places in midfield will increase. Brazilian youngster Lucas seems the most likely player to give way, but Mascherano said: "I always have to fight for a place with my team-mates.

"As a player, when you have competition it's really good for everyone. You have to fight for recognition and everyone tries to work hard so that is good for the team.''

Aquilani made his full debut for Liverpool in Wednesday's Champions League defeat by Fiorentina in a deeper role, with Steven Gerrard acting as the main support for Fernando Torres.

Mascherano was used, as usual, in a holding midfield role. It is believed that, in time, Aquilani will play further forward, with Gerrard in a deeper role. Mascherano's own improved form has pleased boss Rafael Benitez.

The Argentinian said: "I am trying to do my best, but others will have to decide if I am in my best form. I don't like to talk about me. The manager has to talk about me, the media have to talk about me, but I just try to do my best. But I am very relaxed at the moment because I am happy and trying my best.''

Mascherano is in talks over a contract extension, and Benitez said: "We are closer (to an agreement) over Javier's contract. We now must finalise what has been discussed. Javier is happy now, things are positive. It will be easier to progress with the talks.''

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