A 2-0 victory by the Liverpool reserves over Sunderland reserves was made all the more sweet by Alberto Aquilani’s long-awaited debut for the Reds.
The £20 million summer signing from Roma was given a 15-minute run out at the end of the clash with the Black Cats.
With glowing praise from Reds’ reserve team boss (“You can see the lad has quality in abundance”), it was all the more important that he came through his cameo unscathed.
Such positive news could not have come at a better time for Benitez and the fans.
A dismal set of results has left Liverpool languishing in the eighth spot after nine games and in serious danger of being eliminated from the Champions League at the end of the Group Stages.
A lot is expected of the 25-year-old Italian international, and with a substantial price tag, the weight of expectation is all the more heavy.
Since he signed Alberto Aquilani, Rafa Benitez has attempted to dampen such expectations, continually asserting that the Italian will need time to acclimate himself with the rigours English football.
Be that as it may, Aquilani remains the only ace left in Benitez’s pack.
With no more cards left to play, Rafa desperately needs Aquilani to be the creative force in midfield that is so desperately lacking in Liverpool’s performances so far this season. And he needs it sooner rather than later.
Should the new Liverpool No.4 fail to become the catalyst that sparks the Reds into a rich vein of form that pushes them up the table to where they are expected to be, then Benitez has little more left with which to reverse a horrid start to the season.
Rafa may not have the luxury of asking pundits and fans alike to afford Aquilani the time he needs to fully develop before putting too much pressure on him. If Liverpool’s season had begun as expected and they were up there challenging for the top spot, that would be a different story.
But with reality being what it is, Liverpool needs their new signing to hit the ground running. Anything less may well see his new team fighting not for the title, as anticipated, but for a Champions League spot come the end of the season.
So far though, all the signs seem promising.