Liverpool vice-captain Sami Hyypia put quite clearly his opinion of why Liverpool failed to take the opportunity to close ground on Everton on Saturday. He said quite simply: "Crystal Palace wanted to win it more than us."
Liverpool need to win their remaining games, and at the same time hope that Everton lose at least two of their last four games.
Sami was talking to the Liverpool Echo about the game where he was used as one of three centre backs at the kick off: "The game may have changed a bit when Milan Baros went off, but I thought they wanted the result more than us. It seemed they put in more tackles than us."
Sami has been a hero for Liverpool since being signed by Gerard Houllier, but after injury ruled him out he lost his place in the starting line-up for a time to Pellegrino. In the Champions League though there’s no place for the cup-tied Pellegrino, and Hyypia’s performances were so good that it left Rafa Benitez a dilemma. Who to pick at centre back. You’d be daft to leave the Jamie Carragher of 2005 out of your team – and yes, that includes the PFA. So Benitez decided that he’d use all three players. Hyypia, Pellegrino and Carragher.
Hyypia was frustrated with his team mates’ lack of effort, lack of desire on Saturday. It’s been a Liverpool bug for years now though – excellent performances against the country’s big names would be followed by defeat to teams who were later defeated. Hyypia was linked with a move away from Anfield a few weeks back – a link strenuously denied by the Reds – and to hear him talk it’s clear he’s got the desire himself to see his team win. The fact he’s scored two excellent goals himself in recent weeks – against Juventus and Tottenham – is proof of his desire, but he thinks Liverpool were less up for a win than Palace: "If you’ve seen the game, don’t you agree with that? I was on the pitch. I saw what happened out there. I don’t think enough of us were up for it. Sometimes it’s like that and you need to get rid of this. There are many games this season where we’ve dropped points and it’s been the same thing."
Sami was club captain until relatively recently and led the team out in Turin. He spoke like a captain when he said: "Personally, I look at myself after every defeat and think what could I have done better? I expect every other player in the team does the same. It’s not that I’m blaming other players. It’s just that we all have a responsibility to look at ourselves individually because then the team will do better. We had a chance to get closer but we didn’t take it. It’s very frustrating. We have to still believe in ourselves. I’ll never give up as long as there is a chance and I’m sure everyone else in the side feels the same. But it’s going to be more difficult now."
As we now enter the final days before the much-hyped clash with Chelsea kicks off with a first leg on Wednesday, Liverpool are a team nursing their wounds. Whether they stand up to be counted remains to be seen, but Chelsea are busy waiting to see if they become Champions tonight. Arsenal need to beat Spurs to keep the title race mathematically open.
Hyypia wants his team to pick themselves up, feeling his own career is getting nearer to its end: "It’s a massive game on Wednesday and we’ll have to be up for it. Nobody should need motivation. This is the Champions League and there’s a great chance to reach the final. I’ve never been this far before and I want to take it because it may be my last chance. I’m not a young player any more. There’s an opportunity which I don’t want to let pass me by. It will be tough but I think we have a great chance."
Those words need to be put up on the walls at Melwood, on the windows of the team bus, and on the away dressing room walls at Melwood. "Nobody should need motivation. This is the Champions League."
Meanwhile Liverpool seem to be in luck again injury-wise. Milan Baros should be fit for Wednesday’s game. He had to have four stitches in his knee after being kicked off the pitch on Saturday after just 37 minutes. Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia, both unavailable on Saturday, were back in full training again today and so will be available. Alonso had been rested after his three-month injury absence had been followed up with three games in little over a week. Garcia was suffering with a thigh strain.
Fernando Morientes won’t be available on Wednesday, and Cisse is still not fit enought to play a full game. As Rafa Benitez said: "Cisse is still not 100 per cent – sometimes he can play 45 minutes, but he’s not ready to start yet. I need others who can play for 90 minutes and then later in the game we can use him."
He continued: "It will be easy to motivate the players for the Champions League game. We need them to get their head up and start again." Maybe he can start by making some posters: "Nobody should need motivation. This is the Champions League."