Jamie Carragher was Liverpool’s player representative at the official UEFA pre-match press conference today.
Tomorrow night is set to be a match talked about for some time amongst the fans of both clubs, regardless of the result. This sort of game means pressure for both teams. Carra says the pressure for him has been dealing with ticket request from friends and family. How does he prepare for a game like this? "Well I just try and relax as much as possible but the demand for tickets for this game has probably been more than if we had a cup final. We know how big a game this is but you just try and take it in your stride and try and perform to the best of your ability. All the pressure is on Chelsea because their manager got sacked last year for reaching the Champions League semi-final. We want to get to the final and we are very close."
Jamie knows it could be a once-in-a-career opportunity to get into the final of Europe’s premier club competition: "You don’t know when you will get to this stage of the competition again and we want to get to the final. It’s a chance that we may never get again. Hopefully we will but we realise how big a game this is. The chance to play in a Champions League Final doesn’t come around very often so we’re all looking forward to a very special night."
Chelsea clinched the title on Saturday and will be on a high going into the game. They’ll feel they are on a roll and Liverpool are a minor stopping point on their way to European domination. Certainly judging by the comments of Jose Mourinho last week, who more-or-less wrote Liverpool off after the first leg, Chelsea feel the win is already in the bag. Carra puts it into perspective: "We have respect for what they have achieved. They have won the Premiership and that’s a difficult thing to do but we can stop them in their tracks. Chelsea were very strong favorites before the first leg but we got a good result and now they are only slight favourites. We have bridged the gap. We’re fifth in the league and they spend a lot of money so maybe they should be slight favourites. We were delighted with the result we got at Chelsea, but with the crowd on our side it might make things more even. We realise Chelsea are a top team and it’s going to be difficult for us, but as I said I think the crowd are going to have a big part to play."
Liverpool have no doubt been better in the Champions League than other competitions this season. They went out of the FA Cup at the first step when a young team were beaten away to Burnley. The same youngsters brought Liverpool a good run in the Carling Cup – Liverpool losing after extra time in the final (against Chelsea). In the league Liverpool have had a poor season – losing ten away games and in doing so are now 33 points behind Chelsea. The Champions League has seen some brilliant performances from the Reds – doing what had to be done. Carragher says, "We’ve proved a lot of people wrong in the Champions League. At the moment you’d probably say Chelsea are slight favourites, so it’s up to us to prove everyone wrong again. We’ve done it before and I’m sure we can do it again. And with the help of the crowd that will give us a lift as it did in the earlier rounds."
Liverpool’s early poor form in the league (which of course has followed them throughout) was blamed by many on the new (to Liverpool) system of zonal marking. Apart from a 2-0 defeat by Birmingham though, all of Liverpool’s league defeats have been by the margin of just one goal. Liverpool haven’t had a consistent goalscorer in the squad this season otherwise there might have been more points gained. Carragher says that Liverpool’s defence has improved in all this season: "We have done a lot of work on the training ground and that has helped us. We know Chelsea have got an excellent defence but it’s up to us to perform as we have done in the Champions League. It’s very important we keep it tight and stop them getting an away goal. It’s only half-time now and we didn’t want to go too gung-ho. Chelsea have said they were quite pleased to get a 0-0 and I think we were quite pleased. We all realised that the tie was going to be decided at Anfield."
Carragher is proud to wear the Red shirt of Liverpool – a rarity in recent years – and part of that proudness comes from playing in front of such great fans: "The crowd have been great. The atmosphere at the Olympiacos game has gone down as one of the best ever and the Juventus game maybe surpassed even that. Hopefully the fans will help us again tomorrow. The players got a lot of credit after the Juventus game, but I think a lot of credit should go to the supporters. They lifted us to a great performance in the first half against one of the top teams in Europe. And now we’re playing another top team, but if the crowd can do their part and we can do ours than hopefully we can get the same result."
There’s certainly been a lot of ill-feeling building up between the two teams this season – going back to Chelsea’s failed attempts to sign Gerrard in the summer (and then throughout the season), Frank Lampard breaking Xabi Alonso’s leg in January and Mourinho "shushing" Liverpool fans at Cardiff. Carragher is looking forward to the chance of getting back at the Londoners: "Every player is different, but speaking for myself, I am very excited. It is a game we have been looking forward to. We were very disappointed to get beat in the Carling Cup Final and we’ve got a chance to overturn them now in a bigger competition. It’s still at the back of our minds that we were disappointed to lose a cup final to Chelsea, but we’ve got a chance now to beat them and get through to the Champions League Final and that gives it an extra edge."
Xabi Alonso had hardly been back in the team from having his ankle broken by Frank Lampard, before finding himself suspended from the second-leg after Eidur Gudjohnsen took a dive to ensure Alonso picked up a booking. The Icelandic cheat then rubbed salt into the wounds of the Liverpool start by taunting him that he knew he’d miss the next leg now. Carragher praised Alonso: "He’s a fantastic player. He’s a great passer of the ball, as good a passer as anyone in Europe. It would have been great if he could have played because no doubt his passing would have helped, but we put in a good performance without Xabi in the first Leg against Juventus and we will be looking for a similar performance again. Whoever comes in for him will be sure to do a good job." It means another game where Liverpool have not been able to play Alonso and Gerrard together. Gerrard is shaping up to show Chelsea what he thinks of them right now though – he was under the weather last week after a sleepless night and a dental operation on an abscess. He scored a wonder goal on Saturday and will be raring to go. Carra said: "It’s as an important game for Steven Gerrard as it is for all of us. Who knows when we’ll get the chance to play in a Champions League semi-final again. He’s one of our big players of course and normally if he plays well we play well so I’m sure if he puts in a top performance it will certainly help us."
Jamie was asked whether he thought it would be an exciting game: "Who knows? We’ll see how the start of the game goes but we’ll be looking to make a good start in front of our supporters and get the crowd behind us. They will be our 12th man but it’s important that we use our brains as well as our heart. The fans will want us to be attacking non-stop but it’s a European game and we have to got to be very aware of the away goal, so it’s important that we use our brains. European nights at Anfield are always special and I’ve played in a few of them games myself now and I’m sure tomorrow will top everything. If we get the right result on Tuesday I think this would eclipse everything, maybe even St Etienne." The night Liverpool went through against the odds against St Etienne is a night any Liverpool fan will tell you about and is part of a European history that Chelsea can only dream about at the moment. It’s up to the Reds to ensure that tomorrow night’s game stays as piece of history for Liverpool to look back on fondly. For this to happen, does Carra think the first goal’s going to be vital? "Yeah, of course it will be – especially in a European game. We want to make a good start and score more goals than they do."
Carragher had talked about how the game would be different to a Premiership game because of the presence of a European referee, who’ll have a different interpretation of how bad a tackle would be considered. The Premiership is a physical league compared to those in Europe, but there will be one similarity – coming up against Didier Drogba. Carra says of him: "You come up against top players at this level and he has done a good job for Chelsea. He is a physical presence so it will be a physical battle, more like a Premiership game."