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Liverpool missing players, consistency for Benfica
Published in The Egyptian Gazette on 07 - 04 - 2010

LONDON - " Liverpool are short of personnel and in inconsistent form ahead of their attempt to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Benfica in the Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday.
While Fulham and Hamburg hold 2-1 leads in their quarter-finals and Atletico Madrid appear to be in a strong position to get past Spanish rivals Valencia, Liverpool must overcome the absence of a key trio.
Regular starter Emiliano Insua and impact substitute Ryan Babel are suspended, and midfielder Maxi Rodriguez cannot play after appearing for Atletico Madrid in the earlier rounds.
The Reds were expected to challenge for England's Premier League and possibly reach a third Champions League final in five years, but they have won consecutive Premier League matches just once in the last three months and find themselves trying to avoid elimination from Europe's second-tier tournament.
“It is frustrating that I can't play for Liverpool in the Europa League,” said Rodriguez, who started Liverpool's last nine Premier League matches. “I don't like watching from the stands but I will be there with the supporters and we are confident we can do it.” If Liverpool advance, they will meet the winner of the quarter-finals between Atletico Madrid and Valencia.
Rodriguez's old club host Valencia with the clubs tied 2-2 after last week's first leg. Atletico are unbeaten in three meetings with Valencia this season and won a Spanish-league match 4-1 at Vicente Calderon Stadium in February.
Valencia can call upon striker David Villa and Juan Mata for a forward partnership that has scored 11 times in this season's Europa League, but the team's record of just one loss in 11 European away games is under threat with defender Bruno Saltor and midfielder Ever Banega suspended. Fulham recovered from a run of three straight Premier League defeats with a 2-1 win over Wigan at the weekend.
The small west London club, which have never won a major honour, are still on a high after overturning a 3-1 deficit by beating Juventus 4-1 in the last round.
But fatigue is starting to tell on a small squad in a season in which they also reached England's FA Cup quarter-finals. “It's tiring physically and mentally but we should always remember why we're playing all these extra games,” defender Brede Hangeland said.
“To come this far in the Europa League and do well in the FA Cup are a good achievement for this club.”
Fulham may have leading scorer Bobby Zamora available after he missed the win over Wigan because of an Achilles injury.
“He's a key player and we don't look the same when he's not playing,” Hangeland said. “Hopefully he'll be back and 100 per cent fit for Thursday to give their defense a few problems.
“Although it was disappointing to concede a goal at the end in the home leg, we still know they need to beat us and that's going to be a difficult task for them.”
Hamburg are on course for a second straight semi-final appearance and have an extra incentive, with the May 12 final scheduled for the Hamburg Arena.

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