We’d be disappointed if Steven Gerrard’s equaliser against Middlesborough yesterday wasn’t at least on the list of candidates for goal of the season. Looking at the goal in isolation you’d say it was hit with power and accuracy, excellent technique, impossible to save. No lucky deflections or mistakes made in positional play by the goalie. It’s just a pity that it wasn’t a winner – Liverpool didn’t add to it and dropped two points.
Gerrard himself was pleased with the goal, if not the result: "It was a nice strike, I enjoyed it, but it would have been nice to have gone home with three points today. So it doesn’t mean as much as it would if we’d won the game. Knowing that Everton were getting beaten it was a great chance to get closer but we’re frustrated that we didn’t get the three points."
Benitez was extremely unhappy after the game yesterday – looking as hurt by the result as many of the fans would be. Gerrard felt that Liverpool played well, which wasn’t quite what his manager thought: "We controlled most of the game, but they defended well. Southgate was magnificent. We piled a lot of pressure on them but never created many clear cut chances but thought we deserved to nick the three points today."
If a draw in the league was a disappointment, the draw on Wednesday in the Champions League has been considered a good result. Gerrard, speaking to the official site, explained why Liverpool are pleased to go into the second leg all-square: "Nil-nil at Stamford Bridge was a fantastic result. If it had been a Premiership game then coming back with a goalless draw against the league leaders would be looked upon as a great achievement. But because of this away goal rule I don’t think people have given us the credit we deserve. We would have taken that result before the game if someone had offered us this scenario before the start of the season – where we only had to beat Chelsea at home to reach the final of the European Cup then we’d have snatched their hands off. It’s a great opportunity."
Gerrard has been linked all season with leaving the club. Last summer, his disappointment at another season of failure under Gerard Houllier was plain for all to see. He nearly moved to Chelsea, if you believe what was said back then. Whether he set the ball rolling on this possible move or whether he was approached (illegally) has never been confirmed – but Chelsea have been charged for an illegal approach to Arsenal’s Ashley Cole.
Does Gerrard still want to move to Chelsea? During the week Chelsea claimed they weren’t interested any more. Talk now is that he’s about to start discussions on a new five-year deal. One of the reasons Gerrard had for possibly leaving was because he wanted to win things. He didn’t want to be playing for a club happy with fourth place. Now he looks like he’s staying, and he thinks that the gap between the Reds and those above them doesn’t show the true story: "Everyone here knows the gap between ourselves and Chelsea, and also Arsenal and Manchester United come to mention it, is not as great as people make out. It’s just this inconsistency in the league that we have to sort out."
Gerrard gave more praise to his midfield team-mate, Xabi Alonso, who’s going to miss out on Tuesday because of a "foul" against Chelsea. Gerrard said: "It’s a massive blow for the team. He’s a great team player and one of the best passers of a ball in Europe. Any side would miss him. Fortunately we’ve got Didi Hamann back fit and that gives the manager another option.Everyone is sad for Xabi though and hopefully we can beat Chelsea and give him the opportunity to play in the final."
In a further sign of how much Gerrard loves Liverpool he once again underlined just how good it is to be in a Red shirt at Anfield on a European night: "It’s going to be massive and everyone has done nothing but talk about it since last Wednesday. The atmosphere is going to be special. There is no doubt that it is the biggest game of my life and I’m sure it’s the same for every other player here at Liverpool Football Club. I said after the first leg that I hope the fans can play the role of twelfth man and that the Kop can suck a few goals in for us. Against Olympiacos and Juventus you could really feel the support of the fans. It really does help a lot, when you’re piling the pressure on and you can hear the noise coming from the stands it really gives the team a lift."
Another score-draw on like yesterday on Tuesday would see Liverpool go out. The simple fact is that Liverpool have to win. Every goal Chelsea score, Liverpool need one more. Gerrard knows Rafa is well aware of how to play tactically in Europe: "The manager will no doubt have this in mind and we will have to be very careful. Chelsea are going to come here, be very strong defensively and try to hit us on the counter-attack. That’s what they did in the Premiership match earlier in the season. Hopefully we can get the first goal. I think the first goal is going to be very important in this tie. Fingers crossed it will fall to us and we get that bit of luck that we never got in the game on New Years Day."
More praise for his team-mates and the supporters: "I think at the beginning of the tournament we were underdogs and everyone expected us to go out in the first round. The fact that we are now so close to the final goes to show just how well the manager and all the boys have done. The fans have played their part too. I think it’s surprised everyone but we’re not in it just to make the numbers up. We are in it to win it so we’re going to keep fighting."
If Liverpool go through they’ll be playing in the final in Istanbul at the end of the month. Asked what it would mean he made it clear: "It would be the biggest day of my life, simple as that."