There can be no more damning indictment of the problems earlier this season at West Ham than the current form of Javier Mascherano. Unappreciated, sidelined and ultimately unwanted in a team fighting for survival, the Argentinian has suddenly become pivotal at a club who are currently the bookmakers' favourites to become champions of Europe. After ending up in West Ham's reserves, Mascherano is also quietly re-establishing his reputation as one of the world's best young midfielders. "In the last games he has played really well - passing and moving the ball, keeping the ball in position and also tactically," said Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benítez. "He is 22 years old but he has 22 caps for Argentina - that's not easy."
On Saturday, Mascherano was instrumental in a victory that virtually guarantees Liverpool's participation in next season's Champions League and he is likely to be a central figure in the remainder of the current European campaign. Mascherano is wary of talking negatively about his experience with West Ham but his explanation for his new-found happiness at Liverpool is illuminating. "I am very happy because I have been getting a good run in the side," he said. "It is good to be in a dressing room where there is a lot of Spanish spoken. There is a great atmosphere in the dressing room. My team-mates, the technical staff and the fans have been really good to me and that is important. It is much easier to play alongside great players like the ones here at Liverpool."
Unlike Carlos Tevez, who is also finally now flourishing at West Ham, Mascherano is not a player who instantly catches the eye. He simply sits in front of Liverpool's back four, breaking up play and distributing the ball with minimum fuss and maximum effect. In the five games he has played, Liverpool have conceded two goals and it is little surprise that he names Chelsea's Claude Makelele as his footballing idol. "For me, in that role, Makelele is the best there is," said Mascherano. "He has done so many things as a player with Real Madrid and Chelsea. Hopefully I can get to that level - he is one of the greats."
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