Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani hopes to learn from the likes of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano as he makes his gradual progression to first-team regular.
An ankle injury restricted the Italy international, who arrived in the summer after the departure of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid, to just 22 minutes prior to last night’s Champions League defeat to Fiorentina.
However, the £20m signing from Roma gave a glimpse of what the side have been missing with some intelligent touches and clever passes during a 76-minute run-out on his full debut.
Aquilani admitted he was relieved to finally be able to showcase some of his talents but admits there is a long way to go before he is fully up to speed.
“I started for the first time in seven or eight months in the first XI - that’s very hard,” he said.
“After that length of time it’s difficult to be fit but I’m happy because I’m playing and that means I’m getting there.
“My ankle is better, it’s improved, so while the result was not good from a personal point of view it’s been good physically.
“I can play better but it was important to start and to run because after seven months I need to play, play, play because I’m in a new team.
“There are very good players and they can help me. The [Fiorentina] game was important for the confidence when playing with Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and the other players.”
Manager Rafael Benitez insists Aquilani is not a direct replacement for crowd-favourite Alonso and that was immediately evident from last night’s performance.
The slightly-built 25-year-old has an inclination to play at least 15 yards further forward than his predecessor did as his range of delivery and defensive responsibility is not as extensive as the Spain international’s.
However, where he is likely to excel is in picking out the killer pass in the congested space around the penalty area and he showed glimpses of what could be important link-up play with Gerrard against Fiorentina.
The Liverpool captain, who saw some similarities with Alonso, was just pleased to have his new team-mate out on the pitch.
“It was nice for Aquilani to get out there and get his first start,” said Gerrard.
“He can dictate the tempo of a game. He’s a clever player, a good passer. I don’t want to tempt fate but he’s very similar to Xabi.”
Yesterday’s match was the ideal time to start Aquilani as, with Liverpool unable to progress to the knockout stages, it was a dead rubber for the hosts and almost had the feel of a pre-season friendly.
Whether Benitez will be bold enough to field his playmaker at home to Arsenal in Sunday’s crucial Barclays Premier League match remains to be seen.
Aquilani is willing to rise to the challenge but admits he is still a long way short of match fitness.
“The first half I was okay and then after that I got a little bit tired, but that’s normal,” said the Italian
“I hope I can play against Arsenal. I am in the squad so I hope I can play more and improve my match fitness, because that is important.
“If you don’t play the fitness is not good. The training is good but matches are different.
“I am ready but I don’t know if I can play 90 minutes. But this match was important for improving.”
If Liverpool, currently in seventh, are to make a bid to regain their place in the top four they have to start it against the Gunners at Anfield.
A win would put them just a point behind Arsene Wenger’s third-placed side.
“That is very important for us. We have to think about winning each match – we cannot look at the table – and Sunday we need to win,” said Aquilani.
“It is very important for us to qualify for the Champions League next season.”