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Mascherano gives Atlético test top billing

When Liverpool FC step out at the Vicente Calderón to play Club Atlético de Madrid in the semi-final first leg, Javier Mascherano says they will be contesting their biggest match of the campaign.

Javier Mascherano speaks to the media on the eve of the first leg against Atlético
Javier Mascherano speaks to the media on the eve of the first leg against Atlético ©Getty Images

The UEFA Europa League semi-final first leg against Club Atlético de Madrid represents Liverpool FC's "most important game of the season" according to midfielder Javier Mascherano.

With the Reds failing to progress beyond the UEFA Champions League group stage before Christmas and struggling to qualify for the competition in 2010/11, next month's final in Hamburg offers Rafael Benítez's squad a chance to end an indifferent campaign on a high. To do that, however, they must account for an Atlético team who have lost their last three Liga matches and Mascherano is urging everyone connected with the club to forget what has gone before this term.

"Winning is the main thing and tomorrow we will play our most important match of the season," said the Argentinian international, who has featured in all six of Liverpool's games since they joined the competition in February. "We will try to give our best. After the long journey we are together and thinking about the game. I don't think about the past; for me the present is the most important thing."

A knee operation on Monday will prevent former Atlético favourite Fernando Torres from featuring against the club for which he scored 84 league goals in 214 games prior to joining Liverpool in summer 2007. Missing out on a reunion with his previous employers is nothing new for Torres, who also sat out both games against Los Rojiblancos in the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League group stage.

"Fernando is very important for us because he was in top form," added Mascherano, perhaps alluding to the striker's two goals in the quarter-final second leg against SL Benfica. "He wanted to be here but unfortunately he is not. Another player will replace him and the idea is that we don't feel his absence. Fernando is disappointed because it would have been a special game for him."

Liverpool, like several other clubs this week, have endured a long journey to reach their destination due to the disruption to European air travel. Nevertheless, Mascherano sought the positives after making a trip of almost 2,000km by train, coach and plane, saying he now knows his squad-mates like never before. "When I was in Argentina [with CA River Plate] I always had long journeys," continued the 25-year-old. "Now it's important to rest. It was a good trip, we were talking so much and now I know my team-mates better."