Liverpool target Europa League tonic

LONDON - Dismal domestic and Champions League campaigns have left Liverpool seeking Europa League salvation but they must first overturn a 1-0 semi-final first-leg deficit against Atletico Madrid on Thursday.

Poor form and injuries to key players like Spain striker Fernando Torres have ensured a season of unfulfilled ambitions so far at Anfield.

"I am confident. Anfield is massive and with the fans behind us we can beat anyone," Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez, whose side are seventh in the Premier League, told reporters after their first leg defeat.

The five times European champions, chasing their fourth UEFA/Europa Cup, have twice progressed in the competition this season after losing first-leg ties against Lille and Benfica.

However, Atletico, who won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1962 and finished European Cup runners-up in 1974, have their impressive scoring form away from home to thank for a last four berth.

They have bagged six goals on their travels and only managed two at home in their two wins and five draws this season.

The Spanish side have a chance to finish their campaign on a high by appearing in two Cup finals, having already booked themselves a King's Cup final date with Sevilla next month.

"With the squad we have we should be better placed in the league. We started the season badly but now we are in good form. We aren't thinking of a double, just winning the next game," Portugal winger Simao Sabrosa told a news conference.

"We know Liverpool are more conservative away from home, and that at home they will put us under a lot more pressure, but we hold our destiny in our own hands."

In a dour first leg settled by Diego Forlan's scrappy finish, Liverpool gave a performance of a team that had already travelled 1,200 miles by train and plane just to make the match.

After laying on three assists in Sunday's 4-0 league win over relegated Burnley, rarely called-upon Italy midfielder Alberto Aquilani could be used in a more attacking role.

"It is an option. He can play in both positions," Benitez, who is without injured talisman and former Atletico striker Torres, told the club website.

"In this position he has freedom and with Gerrard behind him they can pass to each other."

Atletico's Argentine international striker Sergio Aguero will feature at Anfield after being suspended for the first leg.

Probable lineups:

Liverpool: 25-Pepe Reina; 2-Glen Johnson, 23-Jamie Carragher, 16-Sotiris Kyrgiakos, 5-Daniel Agger; 18-Dirk Kuyt, 21-Lucas, 20-Javier Mascherano, 8-Steven Gerrard; 4-Alberto Aquilani; 24-David Ngog

Atletico Madrid: 43-David De Gea; 17-Tomas Ujfalusi, 21-Luis Perea, 18-Alvaro Dominguez, 3-Antonio Lopez; 19-Jose Antonio Reyes, 12-Paulo Assuncao, 8-Raul Garcia, 20-Simao Sabrosa; 10-Sergio Aguero, 7-Diego Forlan

Referee: Terje Hauge (Norway)

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