Gerrard: Over-confidence would be “suicidal”

Steven Gerrard says Liverpool have to show Barcelona respect and must not allow complacency to creep into their game tonight. The five-times Champions of Europe face the current holders Barcelona in the second leg of their last-16 tie at Anfield. Liverpool got two unexpected and vital away goals in their 2-1 first leg win and know that they now face a team determined to meet the challenge they’ve been set. The Reds captain said: “We have got to be very careful, and show Barcelona every respect. They are a fantastic team and they are capable of going anywhere in Europe and playing people off the park. We must make sure we match, if not better, our first-leg performance. They are maybe more dangerous now because they are behind.”

Barca were firm favourites to win the first leg in the Nou Camp, and Liverpool’s 2-1 win was unexpected by most, including Barca themselves. Gerrard says the tactics Liverpool used were unexpected too: “The fact that we won in the Nou Camp has shocked them, they were not expecting us to be so attack-minded. We went 4-4-2 and were very positive. Our game plan worked. This will be a different game but the team is focused and prepared.”

Rafa’s tactics for tonight remain to be seen, but whatever he goes for the game is far from over, as Gerrard says: “Barcelona over the last couple of seasons have proved they are the best side in Europe, that’s how difficult it is going to be for us. We have a slight advantage, but only slight. We have to get the job done and we are confident we can do that.”

Gerrard identified three of Barca’s most dangerous players, but
admitted that there is quality throughout their opponents’ squad: “We
know we have to keep people like Ronaldinho, Deco and Messi quiet. They
are their best players and we must stop them imposing themselves on the
game, but they have fine players everywhere, so it is all about our
team doing their very best.”

Gerrard tried to explain how Liverpool’s past experience in big games
would be a help tonight, but wasn’t enough to get them through on its
own: “We have the experience of the very big games, we have been to
finals and done it before, but part of being a footballer is that
history counts for nothing, you have to keep going out onto the pitch
to do it again and again.”

Then came the important message to his team-mates, and to supporters:
“We must not get carried away by the first-leg result; we must not be
over-confident and think the job is done – the past counts for nothing.
We have to have a fresh game plan and a fresh performance.”

Gerrard said that he actually thought this match would be tougher than
that infamous night in Turkey in 2005: “This is harder than anything
else we have played in Europe. Barcelona won the cup last season and
they are the best around. I believe this is a harder game than we faced
against Milan in Istanbul.”

The message from Gerrard also included the need to remain focussed
throughout the whole game, whether in possession or not: “We have real
heart now: Barcelona will have periods of the game when they dominate
and get their key players into dangerous areas. We have to ride that
out and stick together before trying to cause them the problems we know
we can.”

Spanish football is shown every weekend on Sky Television in the UK and
Gerrard says he’s been following Barcelona’s games this season,
including their defeat on Saturday night: “I have watched them a lot
all season on TV, and I saw the Seville game at the weekend. But don’t
go believing they are in poor form, they will be desperate to reach the
last eight and you can expect an explosive approach from them.”

Liverpool are now playing for a Champions League place in the league,
and went out of both domestic cups to Arsenal in January. Tonight’s
game has to end in success: “We are out of all the other cups as well
as the title race, so this is all we have left. We need to reach a
level that keeps the fans’ dreams alive for the rest of the season. It
doesn’t get any bigger than playing Barcelona, but having experienced
winning the competition before, I want to do it again.”

Again Gerrard stressed that the euphoria after the first-leg win has to
be put away now. A great and unexpected result it may have been, but
the captain doesn’t want any players to feel that tonight is a
formality: “It will be suicidal if we are over-confident. This is a
defining game in our season. We expect a very good Barcelona
performance, one that goes for goals right from the start. They have
been trying different formations over the last few games and leaving
big players out, but this time I expect their big players to perform at
their best.”

Prior to the first leg Liverpool had a long spell without a game, and
went to Portugal for a training camp to help prepare for the match.
That luxury wasn’t afforded this time though and Liverpool had just two
clear days in between games. Gerrard says Rafa has still had time to
get his game plan across to the team though: “Rafael Benitez’s game
plan was drilled into us for the first game and now we have another one
so we are ready for the challenge. The bottom line is that we must keep
our season going.”

If Liverpool win tonight then Gerrard knows it will be a night to stay
in the memory forever: “We know we have improved year by year under
Rafa. He has taken us to a different level, and he has made us into a
team who can beat anyone in Europe on our day. I have experienced some
special nights at Anfield and I hope this will be another one.”