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English Premiership

We can still make Europe

LIVERPOOL, January 19 – Javier Mascherano believes Liverpool can still secure a place in next season's Champions League despite accepting they deserve all the criticism that has come their way.
Even though Liverpool have failed to win seven times in their last 11 Premier League matches, Rafael Benitez’s under-performing team will move to within one point of fourth place if they defeat Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield here on Wednesday.

The match against Spurs, who currently occupy the Premier League’s fourth and final qualifying spot for Europe’s elite competition, has taken on extra significance for Liverpool following their recent woeful form.

Having seen his side suffer early exits from this season’s Champions League and FA Cup, as well as falling out of the race for the English title, Benitez knows the only way he can salvage the campaign is by Liverpool finishing in fourth place.

But Liverpool’s task against Tottenham has been made harder by the absence of inspirational captain Steven Gerrard (hamstring), star striker Fernando Torres (knee) and Israeli playmaker Yossi Benayoun (rib), who all suffered injuries in last week’s shock FA Cup loss to second division Reading.

In the trio’s absence, Liverpool could only manage a draw in the league against Stoke on Saturday but Argentina captain Mascherano said the team could overcome their difficulties by pulling together as a squad.

"The situation is enough to get anyone down, but this team is going to keep going forward because of the spirit and history of the club," said Mascherano.

"It is normal that we are being criticised – we are all to blame for going out of the Champions League and FA Cup.

"We share the credit when things go well and the blame when things go badly.

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"Rafa has a difficult job because this season key players are getting injured, which would upset the plans of any coach.

"Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are fundamental for us and any team would miss them," Mascherano added.

"It is true we are not in certain competitions now but there are still things to resolve.

"We have to sort out the problems and win. For once, I’d prefer to get the points over the level of our performance."

Ryan Babel is expected to miss the Spurs match after angering Benitez on the eve of the Stoke match by revealing his frustration on micro-blogging site Twitter at not being included in the squad.

Tottenham have not won a league game at Anfield since 1993 yet Redknapp’s side arrive at Anfield on the back of a six-match unbeaten run.

They surprised Liverpool on the opening day of the season, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Sebastien Bassong setting the tone for the Merseyside club’s poor season by scoring in a 2-1 home win at White Hart Lane.

Redknapp is well aware of the value to Liverpool of their England midfielder and Spain forward.

"I’d be lying if I stood here and said that the absence of Gerrard and Torres won’t matter," said Redknapp. "Of course, they are two world-class players, and they will miss them.

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"But they have a strong squad. I have never been there and had an easy game. It is a difficult place to go."

Tottenham are without winger Aaron Lennon due to injury while Ledley King is also expected to be missing with a damaged knee.

Former Liverpool striker Robbie Keane is available but might have to make do with a place on the substitutes bench after being replaced by Peter Crouch, another Anfield old boy, during last Saturday’s goalless draw with strugglers Hull City.

"When Crouch came on against Hull, and not being disrespectful to Robbie, we suddenly looked (more dangerous)," said Redknapp.

"They put so many bodies in there and it was hard to play through them.

"When Crouch came on we could miss them out and drop balls up to him and he won headers and we were getting shots on goal."

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