Mascherano plays down Liverpool fatigue fears

LIVERPOOL midfielder Javier Mascherano is confident fatigue will not be a problem for the Reds against Atletico Madrid tonight despite a gruelling 24-hour trek to reach the Spanish capital.

Due to the volcanic ash cloud that has brought air travel to a virtual standstill over Europe in recent days, Liverpool were forced to make the trip for their Europa League semi-final first leg in a series of phases.

The 1,300-mile journey began on Tuesday – the day after facing West Ham in the Premier League at Anfield – with a train to London, followed by the Eurostar to Paris, where they spent the night.

Yesterday Liverpool took another train to Bordeaux before making a short flight to the Spanish capital.

It was an odyssey Liverpool would have preferred to have avoided but Mascherano is optimistic tiredness will not be a problem for the players.

“Hopefully not, it’s a semi-final and we cannot have an excuse such as tiredness,” he said.

“It’s 90 minutes and we have to play at our best to get to the final so tiredness can’t be an issue.

“Everyone knows it’s a long trip but the main thing is that we are here so we are ready to play and hopefully we can get a good result to take back to Liverpool.”

Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez also gave a more revealing insight as to what the players got up to during the trip, joking: “A lot of them were thinking with their eyes closed.”

He added: “I think definitely we will be okay, we’ll see in the training session but I think we’ll be fine.”

Liverpool go into today’s encounter on the back of a 3-0 win over West Ham but despite that result they are still five points behind fourth-placed Tottenham in the race for the Champions League places.

Benitez’s men are determined to try and end it on a high note with victory in the Europa League.

Mascherano said: “Trophies are the main thing. I said this a few weeks ago. This is the biggest game of this season for us. We will come to the stadium and we will try to do our best. After a long trip we are together, we are thinking of the game and we know if our mindset is right we can get a good result.”

Liverpool are without star striker Fernando Torres, the former Atletico striker, as he underwent a knee operation at the weekend that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

Defenders Fabio Aurelio, Emiliano Insua (both thigh), Martin Skrtel (foot) and Martin Kelly (knee) were all also left behind on Merseyside to continue their rehabilitation.

However, forward Ryan Babel returns to the squad having served a one-match suspension for his sending-off in the last-eight first leg against Benfica.

Meanwhile Atletico coach Quique Sanchez Flores doubts there is any result his side could get in tonight’s semi-final that will allow him to rest easy ahead of the return at Anfield.

Atletico have had plenty of ups and downs this season but they are still in with a chance of winning two trophies, having already reached the final of the Copa del Rey while also making the last four of the Europa League.

Tonight the Spanish club will hope to take a step closer to what would be their first major European final since 1986 when they host Liverpool at the Vicente Calderon, but Sanchez Flores has warned that nothing will be decided until after next week‘s return meeting in England.

““It doesn’t matter what result you get in the first leg,” admitted Sanchez Flores. “Liverpool are a team that are capable of bouncing back.

“I don’t think that the tie, which is 50-50, will be decided at the Vicente Calderon. What I’m sure about is that we will have to play at a very high level.”

Atletico have lost four of their past five La Liga matches and have only won twice in 10 competitions matches.

“We have to recover the way we’ve been playing in this competition, which has got us to the semi-finals,” said Sanchez Flores.

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