Mascherano urges Reds to fight on

Liverpool midfielder aims to save season with victory in three crucial matches
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The Independent Football

Javier Mascherano believes Liverpool can save their season from collapse over the next three crucial matches.

Liverpool, who brought some respectability to their fading title challenge with Tuesday's 2-0 home win over Sunderland, now face three of their toughest games of the campaign. On Tuesday they can reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League if they see off Real Madrid at Anfield, already holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg at the Bernabeu.

Then the following Saturday they have a lunchtime showdown with Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Premier League, followed by a home game with fourth-placed Aston Villa on 22 March.

Mascherano, who played at right-back against Sunderland as cover for the injured Alvaro Arbeloa, is acutely aware of the importance of all three games, for differing reasons. "It is important that we do not slip away in the table," he said. "We must keep concentrating and see if we can get closer. We must keep fighting. We are in a competition with Chelsea for second, but we still must not give up on the chase to catch Manchester United.

"We won't give up. Let's not talk about the title, let's make sure we win our matches. We have a very important Champions League game with Real Madrid next week and then we go to Manchester United before Aston Villa are at Anfield next.

"We must take it step by step, try to get to the Champions League quarter-finals and then turn our attention to the next two league games. The next three matches are very, very important for us."

Liverpool needed victory over Sunderland to sweep away the gloom which had descended on Anfield following the defeat at Middlesbrough on Saturday. Manager Rafael Benitez's own grim demeanour only emphasised how damaging that result had been to confidence around the club. But Mascherano's defiance summed up the players' own determination not to let the season slip away.

He said: "The boss asked me to play at right-back, and I tried to do my best. I don't know if it was good or not but I just tried to do my best. I have played as a right-winger in Argentina, but I am a central midfielder and that is where I am best. I knew the new role was just for one game, and I am prepared to do that for the team.

"I always try to think about the team. For this game and with the injuries we knew we had nobody else." He added: "We knew we had to win after what happened on Saturday. We are not too close to Manchester United, but we have to keep fighting to see what happens next. The supporters were nervous. We have not been taking our chances. But if they see the team playing well they will understand and help us."

Liverpool were also lifted by the displays of 19-year-old striker David Ngog and Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun, who hit the second-half goals which clinched victory.

Mascherano said: "We were all pleased for David. He is young and will be a very important player, and you can see how hard he works in training. It is important for him that when he does get a chance to play, he makes the most of it."

Benitez said: "I was really pleased with the reaction of the players after the disappointment at the weekend. Yossi is playing well, he is a clever player. So when you cannot find space, players with good movement and game intelligence can be crucial, and in the last few games he has been very good for us. But I was also pleased with Ngog. I had told him beforehand I knew he would score. Sometimes you say things to give players confidence and on this occasion he was also able to show the quality I know he has.

"He is a very young player in his first season here coming from France – that is not easy for him.

"He has talent and great pace. Maybe now people will see that he can have a great future here.

"We needed to lift confidence, in particular after the Middlesbrough defeat. It was important to win at home considering the draws we've had at Anfield.

"We must get three points every single game now, and I can guarantee if we can win our next league match [at Old Trafford], the race will be very, very close. Belief is always important. As for the title, let's wait and see. If we can beat them [United], why not?"

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