Finnan: “We’re full of confidence”

Liverpool defender Steve Finnan says that his side’s faint hopes of getting into contention for the league are now over and today’s game for Liverpool is all about ensuring they stay in those Champions League positions. Liverpool have two major home games in succession, starting today with Manchester United, but the game is big mainly because of the rivalry between the two clubs. It’s the midweek game with Barcelona that is the bigger of the two games. Finnan says that a win today would give the Reds a boost ahead of the visit of the Spanish giants: “We know we have two more massive home games back-to-back, starting with United. It would make it even better for us going into the Barcelona game if we can win that one. It’s definitely an all or nothing situation in terms of trying to close the gap on them this season. We know we have to win. They’ve been in a really good run, and keep on getting the wins, so they’ll be confident coming here.”

Liverpool dropped points against Newcastle and Everton, meaning that faint hopes of catching United disappeared: “A few weeks ago we were thinking we had a slight chance of pushing them, but fair play to them. You’ve got to give them credit for the way they’ve pushed on and kept winning. Even though we’ve been on a good run ourselves, that’s put us a long way behind. I think we’re realistic and know that keeping going in the Champions League and qualifying for it again is the main aim for the rest of the season, but that won’t stop us being desperate to get a result tomorrow.”

So could victory put Liverpool back into contention? “Who knows? We’ll be looking to put together another winning run, but it’s a big gap now.” In other words, Finnan rightly does not write off the chances of winning the league until the maths say it can’t be done, but the Irish international knows it’s not very likely.

The gap between Liverpool and Manchester United this season is down in a large part to the Reds’ poor form away from home earlier this season, and that included the fact that all games against the “big” sides came away from home. Liverpool have beaten the one “big” side they’ve now faced at home in the second half of the season, as well as that win in the Champions league against Barcelona, so Finnan says that Liverpool are confident they are capable of handling United today: “Having beaten Chelsea at home and Barcelona we’ve a lot of confidence. Obviously we’ve had some bother against the bigger sides in the league, particularly when we played United and Arsenal earlier in the season. They have both still to come here and we could still make a big difference to our position by winning those games. Aside from Europe our aim is to make sure we establish ourselves even more in the top four of the Premiership.”

Finnan was also pleased that the win in Barcelona was followed by
another good performance in the 4-0 defeat of Sheffield United: “It was
a good test for us last weekend after beating Barcelona not to have a
negative reaction, and we came through that well. Sheffield United are
a tough team to play against. A lot of people might have thought it
would be a frustrating game for us, but the penalties opened the game
up for us.”

Many pundits thought Liverpool had no chance against Barcelona, and
when Liverpool won they found it difficult to give credit where it was
due. It was easier to say Barcelona were poor than to say Liverpool
played well. Finnan says this is good for Liverpool: “Maybe we could
have got more credit, but I’m quite happy in some ways no-one got too
carried away by the result. There’s still a leg to play and they are
still a very dangerous side. We’re not through yet and we know they are
capable of scoring goals at Anfield because of the quality they have in
their team. The best thing we can do is keeping beating teams of that
standard, and eventually I’m sure we’ll get plenty of credit for it.”

He went on: “We want to beat teams like Manchester United and Barcelona
regularly, so we’re all really looking forward to the next two games.”

United’s Rio Ferdinand claims he was pelted with coins when he watched
the North West derby last season at Anfield form the stands: “We got
pelted with obscenities and coins and stuff, but it was a great
atmosphere, it was something that will stay with me forever. It was
brilliant to be in the stands but I would much rather be playing and
get the three points out on the pitch.”

Wary of bigging up Anfield too much though he quickly added: “Anfield
is a good place to go, their fans are very vocal, but you can say that
about every other club in the league, to be honest.”

Ferdinand says the short distance between the two clubs adds to the
rivalry: “It’s not far and there’s great tradition between the two
clubs, great rivalry. I think it’s getting enhanced each year and the
media make a big thing of it. The players feel that, the fans feel
that. It’s usually a great atmosphere and it’s one we’re looking
forward to.”

He’s hoping that they can erase the memories of being knocked out of
the FA Cup by Liverpool last season, the last time the two sides met at
Anfield: “It’s a massive game and we want to get a good result –
fingers crossed we can go there and put on a better show than last time
we went there.”

United fans see a victory today as something that will clinch the title
for them. Liverpool are way behind in third place, with a gap of 16
points. What United are looking at is Chelsea, who would be 12 points
at the end of the game if United win: “Mentally it would be a massive
advantage but we are not thinking about any team other than ourselves,”
said Rio. The 12 points in that scenario would be with Chelsea having
two games in hand though. If Liverpool win today, then Chelsea win this
evening, the gap would be six points and Chelsea would still have a
game in hand. There’s no doubt that today’s result will have a big
bearing on the destination of the league title. That’s why Ferdinand is
quite cautious about counting his chickens: “If we can win it will be
great, if we don’t it’s not the end of the world, but the three points
are what we are looking for.”

Today’s referee is Martin Atkinson, a late replacement for Graham Poll,
and we’d all rather forget his last game in charge at Anfield. That was
the 6-3 defeat in the Carling Cup to eventual runners-up Arsenal. Jerzy
Dudek had the worst performance of his career that night as Liverpool
crashed out, but Atkinson did make some odd decisions on the night too.
This followed on from his decision in December to postpone the game due
to fog, a decision which bemused just about everyone.