Rafa Benitez will not bow to critics who want Alberto Aquilani to be rushed into the Liverpool team.
Reds boss has no doubts about Italian's ability, but will not rush
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez insists he will not bow to critics who want Alberto Aquilani to be rushed into the first team.
The Reds boss' tactics have been questioned as his £20million summer signing has remained on the substitutes bench over recent weeks and only earned a strange 30-second outing in the UEFA Champions League win at Debrecen.
Fans have been desperate to see Aquilani start a match amidst the club's struggling form, but Benitez does not want to rush the 25-year-old's recovery from ankle surgery, which took place prior to his move from Roma, and a virus.
The Spaniard decided to keep the Italy midfielder absent from Sunday's win over Everton, resisting the urge of exposure in the fierce atmosphere of a Merseyside derby, and will continue to err on the side of caution.
"It's more simple than people think," said Benitez in the Liverpool Echo
. "He has been out for longer than we expected and, because he has been injured during the summer, he couldn't train properly.
"Now it is much better and it is a case of improving his match fitness. We want to play him and we thought we might have been able to do that with the reserves at Wigan.
"That was called off (last week) but we had some games at Melwood and he played 45 minutes against our reserves last week. We are trying to improve him as quick as we can.
"But when you have a player who is not fit, he is always going to need time to settle in to a game; if the game is tight and he makes mistakes, then you have a problem.
"We want to protect the player but, at the same time, we want to keep winning games; he understands that he needs to be a little bit fitter before he can play."
Benitez is eager to select Aquilani, who produced an encouraging 14 minutes in October's Carling Cup defeat at Arsenal, and has no doubts regarding his ability, but will still not rush.
"It has not been easy (to not play him) but we are giving him more encouragement in training sessions and he is getting much, much better," added the Reds boss on a player who has a reputation in Italy for being prone to injury.
"We know he is a top-class player and we want to do the best for him and the team; but the best for the player and the team sometimes means he cannot play.
"Think about this example. We were winning 1-0 (against Debrecen) the other day and me and (assistant manager) Sammy (Lee) were talking about playing him.
"But if we played him for the last 20 minutes, when they were attacking a little bit more and he is not settled, maybe it will be the situation will become worse. It is not easy finding the balance but he is getting better all the time."