Jamie Carragher thought he’d pulled a master-stroke inviting boss Rafael Benitez to his summer wedding. He reasoned that if you invite the boss, he has to give you a day off. He’s got his day off for the wedding, but his wife-to-be won’t be getting whisked away to any romantic destinations after the ceremony. Pre-season training has been brought forward under the "Rafa-lution" and Carragher’s going to have to find an alternative to keep his future wife happy: "We don’t normally come back until the 10th or 11th of July, but we’re in on the 27th of June this time. I had visions of getting married and going on a honeymoon. We’ll just have to take the honeymoon before the wedding now."
Carragher is happy enough with the situation though. He’s been an ever-present in the league this season – the only Liverpool player to be so. He’s now ahead of Hyypia in the defensive pecking order, and if he’d been based in London would probably be ahead of others in the England pecking order. Then again, he’s glad to be playing in his home city – as you can tell when he talks about the impact the team’s Champions League progress has had on Liverpool fans: "Everyone’s beeping their horns at you. They see you in your car at traffic lights and give you the thumbs up. It means so much to them. It’s been up and down for the supporters but this has been a big lift."
When Carragher talks about it being up and down for the supporters it’s because the glory of beating Juventus over two legs is tempered by losing twice to Birmingham in the League. A dramatic night at Anfield in the Champions League against Olympiacos – at half time Liverpool looked to be on their way out of the competition, they needed to score three goals without reply to go through. They scored the three and another page was inserted in the already large book of legendary LFC European nights. Then they went to Everton in the league in their next match and lost 1-0. Followed by a home draw against Portsmouth.
Carragher doesn’t look to make excuses though – he knows it’s unacceptable, and really sounds like he means it: "You get criticised in the media and rightly so. This is Liverpool Football Club. We shouldn’t be sinking to those depths. It shouldn’t get as bad as that. We were all disappointed about it at the time and still are really."
When pushed he says that maybe it’s the toughness of the Premiership compared to the skill of continental football that is still being adapted to by some: "It is a different game in Europe – the Premiership’s more physical – and with us having a few foreign players who have only just come over, it takes time to adjust. They’re used to the European games more, and the manager is more experienced in Europe than he is here."
Liverpool have fallen behind in the hunt for League success, but Carragher points out how big an achievement reaching the semi-finals of the European Cup actually is: "For the manager to get us to the Champions League semi-final in his first season when he’s still assessing players who are just getting used to the English game – it’s an excellent achievement. You think of the great teams that Arsenal have had and they haven’t got this far. That puts it in perspective."
Carragher is not the captain of Liverpool officially. Not even the vice-captain. Yet his voice can be clearly heard in Liverpool games shouting out instructions and encouragement to his team-mates as if he did have that captain’s armband on. Even off the field he takes on the job of motivating his team mates. "I was talking to the lads the other day, saying we might never get this chance again. There’s probably six to eight clubs every season who you’d say could win the Champions League. That’s how difficult it is. Now we’re in the last four playing a team we know very well."
Liverpool’s season has perhaps not been helped by a lack of fully fit recognised strikers. Now they’re all coming back to fitness there’s a chance of the scoring record improving. Chelsea have been criticised for using the old George Graham tactics of success through a succession of 1-0 wins, but Carragher doesn’t see this as a problem: "The best teams are built from the back. Look at AC Milan. For me they’re the best team in Europe whether they win the Champions League or not. Look at how strong they are defensively. That’s the key to everything, but if you keep clean sheets and have players like Robben and Duff and Drogba and Lampard then you’re going to win games. That’s what it’s about."
Unlike League or FA Cup games, this tie is played over two legs and Carragher’s well aware of the dangers of trying to win on the night rather than over the two games: "If we’re getting beat by one goal with 10 minutes to go that’s not such a bad result. We don’t want to be trying to get the equaliser and conceding the second. It’s little things like that that change it slightly. I’m delighted that the second leg is at home because if we’re still in with a shout the atmosphere at Anfield is going to be something special."
For now though the atmosphere of London is what matters. Chelsea during the week but first up it’s Crystal Palace. Liverpool need to win, Palace need to win to survive in the Premiership. A slip-up isn’t an option today though – as Carragher has already said, this is Liverpool Football Club.