HAVING seen his side dismissed as a two-man team so many times this season, it was little wonder that Rafael Benitez took a great deal of satisfaction from Liverpool's 2-0 win over Tottenham on Wednesday.
The victory was achieved without Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, the star duo without who, the Spaniard's fiercest critics insist, the Merseyside club are nothing.
"I have said before, the squad is not as bad as people have said," Benitez said. There have been several occasions this season, however, when the collection of players available to the Liverpool manager has looked weak, a theory supported by results.
The difference against Tottenham was that the cast of understudies and underperforming leading lights did not fluff their lines. Central defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos and midfielder Philipp Degen produced their best performances for the club to date, but the standard was set by Jamie Carragher, who produced an outstanding, heart-on-his-sleeve display at right back.
In many respects, however, Liverpool's win was symbolised by the impact on proceedings of Alberto Aquilani (pictured), the Italy midfield player having been written off as a £17m misfit by some. The Italian did not dominate the game -- far from it -- and the way he faded during the second half suggests that there is still much work needed on the fitness front. But after spending the first five months of his Anfield career injured or recovering from injury, Aquilani made an impression on a game of huge importance, as illustrated by his creation of the opening goal for Dirk Kuyt.
The challenge now for Aquilani is to build on his breakthrough, something he accepts. "I knew when I signed that I wouldn't be able to play straightaway because I had an ankle injury," he said. "Ideally, I would have been able to start playing in a team that was winning matches. Instead, by the time I was fit to play, the team was going through a difficult period, so the transition has been a lot harder.
"The pressure has been on me to produce performances straightaway. When I have played, though, I know I can do a lot, lot better," added the Italian.
The same sentiments apply to Degen, who has made little or no impression since his arrival from Borussia Dortmund in July 2008. He has offered something in the past week, however, and the 26-year-old hopes that his endeavours against Spurs have proved a point at the Reds.
"I wanted to fight to show that I could play here and everyone knows that I don't give up," the Swiss said.
© The Times, London