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Jon Riley 22nd Apr 2010 - 13:57

Liverpool hoping that the ash cloud has a silver lining

Under UEFA orders the Europa League semi-finals are taking place this week, despite the infamous volcanic ash cloud that has prevented flights from departing the UK.

This has meant the Liverpool squad setting off for the Spanish capital on Tuesday by train and then flight with an overnight stop in Paris thrown in for good measure. This is hardly great preparation for what could be conceived as Liverpool's biggest game of the season, as they look to book a place in next month's final.

The men from Anfield head to the Vicente Calderon stadium to face Atletico Madrid in the first leg of this tie as favourites to qualify for the final in Hamburg at 8/15 with Los Colcherones priced at 11/8.

Despite Liverpool being the favourites to qualify over the two legs it is the home side who are backed to come through in Madrid.

Atletico are 13/10 to defeat the Reds and take an advantage to Anfield. Given the arduous journey that Rafa Benitez and his team have undertaken then a lethargic, leggy performance might be expected and the bookies seem to think it will be a big advantage to the hosts.

On the other hand though, an optimistic Merseysider could see the 24-hour tour of England and France as a terrific team bonding experience. The jaunt across the channel could be just the ticket to reinvigorate the team. To win in Spain Liverpool are priced at 11/5.

Missing from this tie through injury though is Liverpool's talismanic striker Fernando Torres. El Nino was absent from both games in the Champions League group stage between the two sides last season and will be devastated to be missing this game in front of the fans who still adore him.

David Ngog will be looking to step up after his goal and generally impressive performance against West Ham on Monday. He's priced at 13/2 to open the scoring and 15/8 anytime. If Benitez chooses to pack the midfield he could play Dirk Kuyt upfront on his own. He is also 13/2 and 15/8 on the respective goal scorer markets.

The Liverpool captain and saviour on more than one European night Steven Gerrard is 6/1 to notch first.

The Reds boss Rafael Benitez will have been made very aware about the threat that the Spaniards pose offensively by Maxi Rodriguez, a player who swapped Madrid for Merseyside in January.

Former Manchester United forward Diego Forlan (9/2 First goal scorer) has scored 81 times in only 147 appearances for Atletico and has received the Pichichi Trophy twice during his stay in Spain.

The much lauded Sergio Aguero is suspended so Madrid could well rely on the sharp shooting of Portuguese creative midfielder Simao . He's priced at 8/1 to score first.

Although the home side go into this game as the favourites it is well worth noting that Quique Sánchez Flores' team has lost their last three matches. Very interestingly, they have only won one game in Europe this season, a 2-1 defeat of Galatasary in Istanbul in round 32 of the Europa League. They have drawn all four of their ties in the previous two rounds, progressing on the away goals rule.

As already mentioned, the two teams met twice in the Group phase of the Champions league last season, which saw both games end in 1-1 draws. A similar outcome in this would be an almost ideal result for Liverpool, particularly with having a vital away goal. That 1-1 draw outcome can be backed at 11/2.

I feel that Liverpool will edge this tight game by a score of 1-0, the same scoreline by which they were beating Benfica until Ryan Babel's red card. They are priced at 15/2 to take this slender lead back to Blighty.


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