Victory in Europe will not save Reds season, says Macca

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When Bill Shankly led Liverpool to their first European triumph in the 1973 Uefa Cup, it is unlikely any Reds fans felt they were getting second best. Such is the power of today's Champions' League though, that victory in the inaugural Europa League would not fully save a troubled campaign, according to Steve McManaman.

"It is always nice to win silverware but if you asked any Liverpool fan at the beginning of the season, when they were in the Champions' League, 'Would you like to win the Europa League?' they'd all say you're absolutely mad," says the former Liverpool and Real Madrid midfielder.

"Knocking out Atletico Madrid and going to a nice foreign country with 50,000 fans to watch them win silverware [is great] but the fact the club might not qualify for the Champions' League, which would impact on next season's revenues, is a bit of a worry."

McManaman knows Atletico well from his four years in the Spanish capital and expects Liverpool to prevail against the "perennial underachievers" they face in Thursday's semi-final first leg at the Vicente Calderon. If Liverpool fans think they've had it bad under their American owners, they should try supporting Fernando Torres's old club. Since 1987, when the trigger-happy Jesus Gil began his 16-year presidency, Atletico have got into more fine messes than Laurel and Hardy. The template is much the same today with Gil's son, owner Miguel Angel Gil Marin, at loggerheads with president Enrique Cerezo.

"They have huge support and the Vicente Calderon is a fantastic stadium," says McManaman. "Unfortunately they have been perennial underachievers, they've always had good players but never manage to do anything. [Sergio] Aguero, [Diego] Forlan, Simao – great individual players but collectively they have struggled."

There is something madcap about their results: the only team to have beaten Barcelona in La Liga, they lost to bottom-placed Xerez in their last home game before Liverpool. Curiously, despite ousting Valencia on away goals in the last eight, they have won only one of six games in the Europa League.

And they will be missing their top scorer in Europe, the suspended Aguero, on Thursday. McManaman says: "In a one-off cup game they could hurt Liverpool but you'd fancy Liverpool as firm favourites."

Yet even if Benitez does add a silver lining to Liverpool's season, McManaman admits the Spaniard's future is uncertain. "Rafa came out and guaranteed fourth place a few months ago. If he doesn't get it, is he in an untenable position, I don't know. You hope he stays and continues to progress because if he leaves I presume three or four Spanish people will follow. There are a lot of Spanish people he brought in to the academy and you don't want to rip everything up and start all over again, but we'll wait and see where they finish in the League."

This week in Europe

Champions' League

Tuesday: Internazionale v Barcelona (Sky Sports 2)

First of two huge nights for Jose Mourinho, whose wiles might have stood a greater chance of outwitting Barça's stylists over 90 minutes.

Wednesday: Bayern Munich v Lyon (ITV1)

Being underdogs won't worry Lyon, who beat Bordeaux, since they did the double over Bayern at the group stage.

Europa League

Thursday: Hamburg v Fulham (ESPN)

The incentive of hosting a final often seems to act as unwanted pressure rather than an incentive, as Manchester United and, this year, Real Madrid have found. Now the onus is on Hamburg.

Thursday: Atletico Madrid v Liverpool (Five)

Supposed to be a reunion for Fernando Torres instead of Rafa Benitez (Atletico having knocked out Valencia in the quarter-final) but will the star striker be fit? Whether any of these matches goes head depends on the volcanic ash clearing of course. Uefa will make a decision tomorrow.

Steve Tongue