Gerrard: Barca tie still not over

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is full of confidence that Liverpool can go all the way to Greece and pick up a sixth European Cup. The win in Barcelona in the first leg of the last-16 means the Reds have a strong chance of progressing to the quarter finals, and if they do manage that then Gerrard thinks the Reds are capable of doing what they did in Istanbul in 2005 and prove the doubters wrong: “We’ve shocked the football world once – and we can do it again in Athens. We proved two years ago that we can win this competition, and on our performance in Spain I think people will take note around Europe that we can go and do the same again this season.”

Liverpool were written off by many as soon as the draw for the last sixteen was announced pairing the Reds with the Catalan side, but Gerrard recalls that they were written off in much the same way throughout the 2005 campaign: “We surprised a lot of people in 2005 because we weren’t favourites to win it. I think our performance in Barcelona sent a message around Europe because people were probably expecting Barcelona to walk all over us, but we know we are a fantastic team in Europe and that anything is possible for us.”

Speaking to the Sunday People, Gerrard was keen to point out that he was far from complacent about this next leg, progress hasn’t been taken for granted: “The tie’s still not over, not by a long way. They showed in the first half-hour in the Nou Camp what a good side they are, but we got our game plan and tactics spot on frustrated Barcelona. People were expecting us to be camped on our 18-yard box but the manager in his team talks and preparation told us to be positive.”

Gerrard believes this positive approach probably surprised Barcelona:
“We went 4-4-2 where a lot of teams go to the Nou Camp and play five at
the back or five in midfield. Although we showed Barcelona respect, at
the same time we were confident we could get a result.” And the win,
with two away goals, is more than they expected to come home with:
“Obviously, before the game we’d have taken a draw so to have won is a
massive bonus and it sets things up nicely.”

Barcelona need to score at least twice to progress, and that means
they’ll arrive at Anfield intending to show what they’re capable of:
“We know Barcelona won’t let their crown go without a fight and they
will come to Anfield with nothing to lose, so that makes them
dangerous. We won’t be going into the game over-confident and showing
off that we are 2-1 up. We’ll be going into it 0-0 and we’ll need the
same work ethic as we had in Spain.”

Prior to the Spanish game Liverpool had spent a few days on a training
camp in Portugal. All went well until the last night, when some
misbehaviour resulted in some negative press for the club. Most of what
was reported was exaggerated, but after club fines and apologies, not
to mention some sobering up, all is now forgiven. Striker Craig Bellamy
allegedly threatened John Arne Riise with a golf club, although it
seems that he didn’t actually hit him with it, after a row started in
the karaoke bar. Rafa and the club handled it by admitting incidents
had taken place, without revealing details, and by fining the players.

In interviews that followed in the days since, any player or official
who’s answered questions about the events has said the press stories
were exaggerated. It looked at one stage that this bust-up would ruin
the work done in building team spirit but in fact by all accounts it
actually improved team spirit a little. The players weren’t happy to
read stories in the media that weren’t accurate, that made things sound
worse, and so it helped to bring more unity to the squad. Then the two
stars of the story scored the two goals that have given Liverpool such
a lift in the tie. Gerrard joked that Rafa should consider a return to
Portugal: “It was ironic that the scorers were Riise and Bellamy after
what happened, and if I was Rafa I’d take us back to Portugal for a
couple of days before we play Barcelona!  I think it was all blown out
of proportion and, in a strange way, it brought us all together. We
were reading stuff that we knew was wrong, but you know karaoke nights
and stuff like that sometimes bring the squad together and that was the

By the time the Nou Camp game came round the squad were focussed and
determined to do well: “I think what happened in Portugal brought us
stronger together – there was a great atmosphere in the dressing room
before the game. We knew we needed a tremendous team performance if we
were going to get a result and that’s what we got.”

Gerrard has been delighted to see Bellamy finally settle in at the club
since his summer move: “Craig has been playing well, not just in the
Nou Camp but for a while. He had a difficult time at the start after
his move here and it took a bit of time to settle, but in his last five
or six games he’s been looking really sharp and is causing teams
problems. He hasn’t been down about what’s happened and, in fact, the
whole episode has definitely brought us all together.”

Questions about Portugal will take a long time to go away, but the win
and the performance in the Nou Camp has probably made the story’s life
a little shorter. Players will keep being asked about it though, but
Gerrard clearly wants it to be forgotten about now: “People were
looking for problems in Barcelona after Portugal but there weren’t any.
Now we just have to finish the job and get to the quarter-finals.