Belief returning to Liverpool says Gerrard
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard admits the absence of injured striker Fernando Torres damaged belief within the squad but the prospect of a Europa League final and snatching fourth place in the Barclays Premier League has lifted spirits.
Torres' presence in a Liverpool starting line-up not only offers them a considerable goal threat but the fear factor he generates means team-mates often are given more freedom by opponents.
That has been missing since the Spain international's last appearance in the quarter-final second-leg victory over Benfica, after which he underwent a second knee operation in three months which prematurely ended his Liverpool season.
The players are used to being without Torres - he was sidelined for five weeks after surgery in January - but it has taken them time to assume the goalscoring responsibilities themselves.
A 3-0 win over West Ham last Monday followed by Sunday's 4-0 defeat of Burnley - Liverpool's first away victory in eight attempts - has proved they can score goals without their Spain striker.
And Gerrard hopes they can carry that form into Thursday's Europa League semi-final second leg, when they will seek to overturn a 1-0 deficit, and their remaining two Premier League fixtures against Chelsea and Hull.
"I won't lie. Sometimes when you lose your top striker, it can damage belief and affect your confidence but this was much better," said Gerrard after his two goals against Burnley - the first time he had scored twice in a match this season.
"It was important we scored a few goals against Burnley and won convincingly.
"We are now going to pile everything into Thursday's game, which can't come quickly enough.
"The players are up for it and we have to leave every bit of sweat and blood out on that pitch on Thursday.
"Let's hope we don't have to score a lot of goals and we can win it with two.
"But if they score we have to score three; we'll have to adapt during the game and do whatever it takes to win.
"There have been many occasions when we've had our backs to the wall and people have doubted us but we go into every game believing we can win and do anything possible to win on the night.
"But we have done it before and we hope to do it again."
Gerrard has struck up a good understanding with January signing Maxi Rodriguez in recent weeks but the Argentinian will be ineligible for Thursday's match, having played for Atletico earlier in the season.
The Liverpool captain believes it is another big loss for them.
"Maxi has been terrific for the last five or six weeks," said Gerrard.
"It would have been great to have him on Thursday because he's an intelligent player who can unlock defences.
"He is on the same wavelength and, as a footballer, it is a pleasure to play with good players and that is what Maxi is, a fantastic player."
Liverpool's chances of coming back against Atletico to reach the May 12 final in Hamburg look infinitely better than those of securing fourth place in the league.
Current incumbents Tottenham are two points ahead on 64, with a match in hand, and the Reds must win their remaining two games and hope neither Spurs, Manchester City nor Aston Villa get more than 68 points.
If they do not it could well come down to goal difference, where all the rivals are fairly equally matched, and the crucial results are likely to be the meetings between City and Villa at Eastlands next weekend and City at home to Spurs the following Wednesday.
It may seem highly unlikely at this late stage but Gerrard said as long as it was possible the players would strive to achieve it.
"We've got a couple of games left and the idea is to take maximum points to sneak into fourth via the back door," said the England midfielder.
"We know it is going to be difficult but, who knows, the clubs above us might slip up.
"We won't give up but it would be stupid of me to say this or that is going to happen - it's important to be realistic.
"We are underdogs to sneak this fourth position but our fans know that we have also got Everton breathing down our necks and we certainly don't want them finishing above us."
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