Liverpool missing players for Benfica clash

Liverpool is short of personnel and in inconsistent form ahead of its attempt to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Benfica in the Europa League quarterfinals on Thursday.

While Fulham and Hamburg hold 2-1 leads in their quarterfinals and Atletico Madrid appears to be in a strong position to get past Spanish rival Valencia, Liverpool must overcome the absence of a key trio.

Regular starter Emiliano Insua and impact substitute Ryan Babel are suspended, and midfielder Maxi Rodriguez cannot play after appearing for Atletico Madrid in the earlier rounds.

The Reds were expected to challenge for England’s Premier League and possibly reach a third Champions League final in five years, but they have won consecutive Premier League matches just once in the last three months and find themselves trying to avoid elimination from Europe’s second-tier tournament.

"It is frustrating that I can’t play for Liverpool in the Europa League," said Rodriguez, who started Liverpool’s last nine Premier League matches. "I don’t like watching from the stands but I will be there with the supporters and we are confident we can do it."

If Liverpool advances, it will meet the winner of the quarterfinal between Atletico Madrid and Valencia.

Rodriguez’s old club hosts Valencia with the clubs tied 2-2 after last week’s first leg.

Atletico is unbeaten in three meetings with Valencia this season and won a Spanish league match 4-1 at Vicente Calderon Stadium in February.

Valencia can call upon striker David Villa and Juan Mata for a forward partnership that has scored 11 times in this season’s Europa League, but the team’s record of just one loss in 11 European away games is under threat with defender Bruno Saltor and midfielder Ever Banega suspended.

Fulham recovered from a run of three straight Premier League defeats with a 2-1 win over Wigan at the weekend.

The small west London club, which has never won a major honor, is still on a high after overturning a 3-1 deficit by beating Juventus 4-1 in the last round. But fatigue is starting to tell on a small squad in a season in which it also reached England’s FA Cup quarterfinals.

"It’s tiring physically and mentally but we should always remember why we’re playing all these extra games," defender Brede Hangeland said. "To come this far in the Europa League and do well in the FA Cup is a good achievement for this club."

Fulham may have leading scorer Bobby Zamora available after he missed the win over Wigan because of an Achilles injury.

"He’s a key player and we don’t look the same when he’s not playing," Hangeland said. "Hopefully he’ll be back and 100 percent fit for Thursday to give their defense a few problems.

"Although it was disappointing to concede a goal at the end in the home leg, we still know they need to beat us and that’s going to be a difficult task for them."

Hamburg is on course for a second straight semifinal appearance and has an extra incentive, with the May 12 final scheduled for the Hamburg Arena.