Steven Gerrard wants to remind anyone that might have forgotten that Liverpool have an important game to play today. All the talk for Liverpool this has been about what happened in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, and of what might happen in the second leg on Tuesday. Added to all of this has been a long list of interpretations over what the rules are for qualification next season. Today Liverpool play host to Middlesbrough at Anfield as they do what they can to try and finish in fourth place in the premiership.
Many have now written Liverpool off, and Everton only need to win two of their remaining games to give Liverpool no chance of fourth. The fact remains though that for Liverpool to have any chance, they need to win two games more than Everton do. With just three games left it doesn’t leave any room for any slip-ups.
The Liverpool captain has been quiet off the field in recent weeks, but today he warned Everton that the Reds do intend to fight. Said Gerrard: "It is a mountain to climb definitely but we won’t give it up. The manager has drummed it into us to keep fighting and none of the players here will be giving it up. Everton only need two more wins from their last four games and they do look clear favourites at the moment. But if we can get three points against Boro today and Everton slip-up then the table will take on a whole new look."
Stevie continues: "Everyone is talking about Tuesday night but we’ve got a game today and we need to get a result because getting into the top four is just as important. There are still nine points to play for and we want all nine. Until it’s mathematically impossible we’ll keep up the fight."
Stevie has had a difficult season – all the talk about his desire to win things, and to leave Liverpool to do that if necessary, has left him under scrutiny. He’s not allowed any off-days, if he misses penalties or scores own goals some "fans" even accuse him of doing it deliberately. In the midst of all this negativity a future Reds captain has emerged.
Jamie Carragher has always been a good defender – although as a full-back his attacking abilities weren’t as good as those of some other full-backs. Defending is what he’s good at, and he’s excellent at it. When the PFA awards nominations were announced recently, Reds boss Rafael Benitez expressed disappointment that Carragher’s name wasn’t in there. Stevie says it’s about time that Jamie got some recognition: "Carra has come on in leaps and bounds this season, and for me the praise he has been getting is long overdue. He has been a fantastic player for Liverpool for years. He has stood out for us this season because his game has improved so much. He can now be considered a truly world class defender, and there’s no doubt about it – he’s a massive influence for us. The manager said recently he’s as good as any defender in the country. I’m not sure everyone believed him but they should now. Carra doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He is underestimated and has been for years. That has never been the case in our dressing room or among the fans. To us, he is a hero."
Stevie seemed to enjoy comparing Carragher to the eventual winner of the PFA award, England’s third-choice centre back, captain of Chelsea, John Terry. "Now others will surely start accepting that he is definitely at the same level as John Terry and England’s other outstanding central defenders. He was always a good defender, but he’s added a lot to his game this season. There’s a confidence, experience and maturity about how he plays now. As well as defending so well, he looks to bring the ball out and set up attacks. That’s the confidence you get from maintaining high standards. You can move up from the back and try things that maybe you wouldn’t have attempted before. You are seeing that from Carra, and he has won our player of the year hands down."
Once today’s game against Middlesborough has ended, it will be time to prepare for the Champions League again. The Anfield Road stadium will hear the Champions League theme tune played for the last time this season – assuming it can be heard over the noise of the Reds’ fans. European nights at Anfield always seem to bring out the best of the noise and passion that Anfield has always been able to produce.
Gerrard wants to win things. On Tuesday he can get one step closer to doing it in a red shirt and he said, "We need brave men on Tuesday. We need everyone to stand up. We need 11 gladiators out there to beat Chelsea, and the fans have to be ready for an incredible night."
As a hint to the Stamford Bridge faithful about how quiet they were on Wednesday, Gerrard pointed out which stadium he feels is the place to be playing European football in: "Anfield is the best place for big European night by a mile. It is an incredible atmosphere, and we need that – we know exactly what role the fans can play, and we know how the team must play. The confidence running through us on these type of nights is incredible. European nights at Anfield are something special, and the fans will be up for it. It could be awesome. It is going to be a great spectacle for everyone, I just hope come the final whistle we will be celebrating. This season, we have had incredible nights at Anfield against Olympiakos and Juventus, just unbelievable occasions, but this will surpass that. During your career not many chances come along to get to the European Cup final like this. The important thing before Tuesday’s game was to stay in it and give ourselves a chance. We’ve done that, and while the job is only half-done, if we can produce a night similar to that against Juventus, then we can go through."