Carra: Finnan best right-back I’ve played with

Jamie Carragher has been speaking to the press and also to the official Liverpool FC website about his thoughts on life at Liverpool in general, and also about the Champions League. Liverpool continue their defence of the title in Portugal tonight against Benfica.

All kinds of records have been equalled or beaten by Liverpool since Rafa Benítez came along. They are also banishing old demons – Saturday’s victory over Manchester United in the FA Cup was their first for 85 years in that competition. In the Champions League they have equalled an English record held by Chelsea for successive clean sheets with five in succession. One more would give them the English record outright, but would still be short of AC Milan’s seven in succession. Looking at it from the point of view of elapsed time, Liverpool’s defence needs to remain unbreached for 73 minutes of tonight’s match so that they can overtake Chelsea’s English record of 561 minutes without letting any goals past.

According to Carragher, these kinds of records are extra targets to aim for when setting out in a match: “It’s a good target to have in mind. The defence’s job is to get us a clean sheet, and while it’s not necessarily something you think about during the game, the longer you go without conceding the more determined you are to keep the run going. I remember in Japan when we were going for the record for most clean sheets in a row. Even though we had the game won, I was a bit worried when Sami Hyypia was taken off because I really wanted us to make sure we didn’t concede a goal, even though we’d already done the most important thing and won the game at that stage. As we were saying then, we’d rather win the game and concede a goal than draw 0-0, but in Europe it’s always especially important to keep that clean sheet.”

Carragher says that Liverpool need to be able to work as a team to keep
the goals out. All over the park the Reds have to work hard and ensure
that the opposition get as few chances as possible. Tonight’s opponents
are not going to sit back says Jamie: “In these types of games it’s not
just down to the goalkeepers and defenders. You need the midfielders
and strikers sacrificing themselves as well because you know they’re
going to have a real go at us and try and create loads of chances.”

There was also praise for the player that was signed in some ways to
replace Jamie Carragher. Playing then as a full-back, Carragher vowed
he would not lose his place in the side when Steve Finnan arrived.
Carra had already survived the arrival of Markus Babbel by making the
left-back spot his own, but with the arrival of Finnan there was a lot
of talk that Haulier would be letting Jamie go. Finnan and Carra look
surprisingly similar, confusing commentators more than once during a
game, but with Carra in the centre of defence they no longer compete
with each other for a place in the side. As a result Finnan has
improved his game substantially. Carra looks back to the days when he
lined up with Babbel: “I was playing a different role at left-back
then, and Markus Babbel was superb as right-back. What I’d say is as
brilliant as Markus was that season, Steve Finnan’s the best right-back
I’ve played with. He doesn’t get a lot of credit, but when the PFA team
of the year awards are announced, I’d be amazed if he isn’t right-back.
Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to vote for your team-mates. If you
could, he’d be my first pick.”

When Carra was a full-back his strength was in his defending, and he’d
often be criticised by the moodier members of the support for not
getting forward enough. Finnan, perhaps thanks to the tactics employed
by Rafa Benítez as much as anything else, gets forward to produce a
telling cross more than enough in a game. As Carra says, Finnan is
two-footed too: “I thought he had a great game against Manchester
United on Saturday as well. Look at the quality of crosses he puts in
with his left foot. There aren’t many right-backs capable of doing

Talking of United, Carra says that Benfica’s progress at the expense of
Manchester United shows just what quality Liverpool are up against
tonight: “Any side that comes through a group with Manchester United,
and then knocks them out, must be good. I know a lot of our fans were
happy with the draw, but I think this is one of the toughest places we
could come to. They’ve had a few problems recently but they’ll be
determined to do well against us.”

The atmosphere in the Estadio De Luz (Stadium of Light) may not match
Anfield (we would say that) but it’s certainly not going to be
peaceful: “Their supporters will really get behind them and make it a
good atmosphere. We’re going to have to be at our best to ensure we get
the right result. There isn’t as much pressure in the group stage,
particularly in the early stages when you know you’ve always got a
second chance to get through if you slip up. It’s a different feeling
once you get into the knockout stages. Last season Arsenal had a bad 20
minutes in their first leg against Bayern Munich and it made the other
160 irrelevant. That’s the danger. You’ve got to keep your
concentration much more and make sure you don’t make any silly
mistakes, otherwise you could leave yourself too much to do before the
second leg.”

Liverpool achieved success in last season’s competition despite a
difficult season in the league. Benfica are having a tough time
domestically. Carra says maybe Liverpool’s success last season would
work as a spur to Benfica to do well: “A lot of teams will be looking
at what we achieved last season and believing this could be their year.
Once you get to this stage, any side can beat the other. After what
they did to Manchester United they’re bound to fancy their chances.
We’re going to have to be very careful.”

Carra also spoke about the adulation that the fans give him: “With the
local lads, you’re either hated or loved. You can see the reaction here
with Stevie Gerrard and Robbie Fowler, but I don’t think that’s just
Liverpool fans, it’s fans in general. When I was playing full-back
there were big name players here and at times I did feel maybe I didn’t
get the credit I deserved but that’s football.” Carra is perhaps the
most in touch of Liverpool players when it comes to knowing what the
fans think of him and the team, and he’s well aware of what is sung to
him: “The one about the pound is funny but I’m delighted with ‘team of
Carraghers’ and hopefully that’ll stick with me to the end of my

Jamie says Liverpool’s problem for some years now has been finding
whatever is needed to beat the sides lower down the table: “Ever since
I’ve been in the team, the problem has been with smaller sides and
people asking are we up for it. I’m not going to lie, there’s no way in
the world you feel you feel the same playing a bottom-of-the-league,
compared with facing Everton, Manchester United or a top European side.
That’s human nature. You give 100% in every game, but in those there’s
an extra little bit and that’s coming from me, a player who everyone
says does it in every game.  Of course there’s expectancy. We’ve got so
many ex-players in the media, no matter what we do they’ve always done
more so it’s difficult to make your own history. But that’s the club
you play for. You need a certain mentality to be a Liverpool player
because you face a lot of criticism. Along with Stevie, I’ve played
more games than anyone here and been through more crises. We seem to
have one every year – lose a couple of games and it’s a crisis.”

Xabi Alonso makes a return to the side after being out just recently,
and Carra compares him to one of the long-time Liverpool legends: “The
foreign players have brought a lot to our game. We’ve got Xabi Alonso
and he’s special. I played in the Reserves with Jan Molby and Xabi’s
the nearest I’ve seen to Jan in a decade. He gives us something
different, no other team has a player like that, sitting in the middle
spraying the ball around like Guardiola used to at Barcelona. There’s
definitely more ‘football’ now. I think the Premiership is the most
competitive league in Europe.”

Rafa Benítez’s training methods are also touched on by Liverpool’s
number twenty-three: “Training is very methodical, everything geared to
the next game. We’ll practice throw-ins for 15 minutes and movement
around throw-ins.  The manager’s not a shouter, he talks to us
collectively, never singles people out, but he’s ruthless. You can see
that from the decisions he made after the Champions League final. There
was no messing about, no sentiment there at all. He never switches off,
like after the final whistle in Turin when he was telling us what we
should have done in the last ten minutes. Rightly so, but I had to tell
him that he’s never going to get the perfect performance ever, so he
might as well enjoy it!”

Carra also mentions how team building is an important part of what Rafa
works on: “We have team nights out. The spirit is good. The Spanish
lads mix well, more than some of the last regime. They’re learning
Scouse but they’ll have some way to go to beat Didi Hamann.”

There’s also a funny moment from Carra when he looks back at the Super
Cup final last August. Steven Gerrard was injured that night and so the
honour fell to Carra to step forward and lift the trophy: “I was really
pleased when the manager made me vice-captain. When Stevie misses out,
it’s a real honour to lead the team but when I went up to get the Super
Cup, I felt a bit embarrassed to be honest because I’m not the proper
captain and I didn’t really know what to do!”

As for representing England in the World Cup, Carra diplomatically
diverted attention back to the more important job of getting success
for Liverpool out of the way first: “My mind is on retaining the
Champions League. If we do well in that and I play well, it’ll give me
a chance because doing it against Europe’s best you can take that on to
a World Cup.”