LIVERPOOL, February 18 – Emiliano Insua feels this season has seen him solidify his place as a regular in the Liverpool side despite a campaign of disappointments at Anfield.
The 21-year-old Argentinian left back has been a regular in Rafael Benitez’s teams this season, playing 24 games in the Premier League.
Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League in the group phase and, having been tipped to challenge for the English title, are now battling for fourth place.
They now face Romanian side Unirea in the first leg of the round of 32 at Anfield here on Thursday as they begin their Europa League campaign.
Insua has made the most of constant injuries to Fabio Aurelio and the poor form of Andrea Dossena, who joined Napoli last month, to carve out a regular place in the Liverpool line-up.
And he admitted even he had been surprised by his emergence, which led to him winning an international cap in a 2-1 win over Peru in September.
"I’ve almost played all the games so it’s really nice to play in Liverpool for a team that’s one of the best in Europe," Insua said on Wednesday.
"I’m really happy and hopefully I can keep doing the same."
He added: "I’m a young player and this season has given me a lot of confidence and I have to keep training and working hard and doing the same thing on the pitch.
"If you are playing so many games in a row you have experience and if you are a young player you are doing things in a rush so maybe this season will help me for the future and has given me more experience."
Insua explained Javier Mascherano had been a major influence in helping him settle at Anfield since joining from Boca Juniors in 2006.
Mascherano is the Argentina captain and has assisted Insua’s integration into life in England.
The pair have been joined by fellow countryman Maxi Rodrigues, who signed from Atletico in January, and Insua said the trio were big friends away from football.
"It’s a big help. We are together and we needed some support and it’s a different culture and you can’t talk.
"In the first year I couldn’t speak much English so to be with Javier and now Maxi is very nice and it’s a pleasure for all three of us.
"Javier is the captain of the national team so I respect him and I’m always listening to him as everything he says can help me."
Insua reckons winning the Europa League would go a long way towards making up for the frustrations that have dominated Liverpool’s season.
The Merseysiders have not won a trophy since lifting the FA Cup in 2006 and Insua insists the Reds want a long run in Europe, despite playing in a lesser competition following their Champions League demise.
"Maybe it would be very nice for us," he said. "We’ve had disappointment in the past but we’re not finished so it’s better to think about the future and to leave the disappointment behind and try to play the next game as best we can.
"We will see if we can win the Europa League because it’s something we want.
"It’s important for the players to play in European competition. They are not many players that get to do that so we will have to do our best and try to win," he added.
Romanian champions Unirea have another Argentinian, Pablo Brandan, in their squad and Insua insisted Liverpool would not take Roni Levy’s side lightly.
"They have one Argentinian player Paulo Brandan and I watched him in Argentina but I haven’t seen him in Romania so I don’t know how he’s doing.
"They have a new manager, they’re organised and they will play counter-attack so we have to try to keep them quiet and try to push them and win the game.
"We have to keep the momentum because in the last nine or 10 games we didn’t lose too many and hopefully we can win on Thursday and then get to the next stage," Insua insisted.