Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia is full of respect for former team-mate Djibril Cissé. The Finnish defender is getting an extended run in the side at the moment with Daniel Agger missing due to a broken metatarsal, and the French striker is making a return to Anfield tonight with his new club Marseille.
Hyypia recalls how they would have some minor tussles on the Melwood training ground, but says that both of them will obviously be playing in a slightly more competitive way against each other tonight: “In training we had some good battles, but of course in training you can’t play as you would in a game. For ninety minutes tomorrow we will forget the friendship and both of us will try to do our best for our teams – I think we know each other quite well, but I can’t say it’s a good thing that I know his game, because he knows mine as well!”
Hyypia showed his respect for Cissé, by listing some of his strengths: “I think he is a good goalscorer. He had a tremendous goalscoring record in France and he has a powerful shot. He is lightning quick, so of course he poses a threat to us, but there are many more players at Marseille who can hurt us. We can’t only concentrate on one player, there’s a whole team against you.”
That team could also include another former Red, midfielder Bolo Zenden who went to Marseille on a free transfer this summer after being released by Rafa Benitez. Hyypia hopes the Reds play to their own strengths: “If we manage to play our team game as well as we can it should be fun.”
Hyypia was asked how he felt the pair would feel on their return to Anfield: “I’ve never experienced going back to an old club before. I have never played against my old sides so I wouldn’t know how it feels, but I think Bolo Zenden and Djibril are looking forward to the game and I think they are going to get a good reception from our fans.”
Bolo knows how it feels to play against former clubs – he got plenty of experience of that last season during Liverpool’s Champions League run. Liverpool played PSV, Barcelona and Chelsea on their way to Athens, all former clubs of the Dutchman.
Liverpool’s start in the Champions League proper this season wasn’t of the high standard most Reds expected, a 1-1 draw against Porto, which saw Jermaine Pennant sent off for two bookable offences meaning he’s suspended tonight. Hyypia says that whilst he accepts it wasn’t a good-enough performance, it was a good result: “I wouldn’t blame anyone who criticised our play in Porto because everybody understood it wasn’t a very good game for us, but despite the performance the result was good. When the draw was made I thought Porto would be our most difficult game and we still came back with one point, which was good.”
Liverpool need to get out of the blocks quickly tonight says Hyypia: “We know Marseille haven’t had the best start to the season in their league so we have to start very quickly and not give them the confidence to get into the game. It’s very important to win all your home games in the Group stages. We go out to win every game whoever we are playing, but especially at home.”
Hyypia is one player completely happy with the often-spoken-about rotation system at Anfield, because as he nears his 34th birthday he knows he needs more time between games. He’s playing more than normal now because of Agger’s injury, but will certainly be happy to step aside again once the Dane is fit again: “I’m enjoying playing a lot of games at this moment, but I’m not twenty-years old any more so the recovery time after the games is a bit longer than it used to be. For me it suits me if I don’t play every game – I understand there are only eleven places in the starting line up, that we have a big squad and we have quality players on the substitutes’ bench and sometimes not even in the squad.”
As the player most comfortable with being left out of the starting line-up, he’s perhaps the most fed-up with hearing about it: “Everybody keeps talking about rotation when the results are not there, but when the results are there it is never mentioned.”
Meanwhile Djibril Cissé has been speaking fondly of his time at Anfield: “Liverpool were always my number one choice to stay, but you cannot always have what you want in football. I have so many good memories of my time here. The Champions League final, the Super Cup and FA Cup finals, I feel bonded to this club.”
One memory that sticks out is that night in Turkey in 2005: “The win in Istanbul is the highlight. It was such a crazy game and a crazy night. No player could ever forget that and I imagine the fans will always remember it. That is what bonds us, the players and the fans who were all there that night. It is something that will stay with me forever.”
Cissé has been nursing an ankle injury and so may miss tonight’s game. If he does make it he desperately wants to score and try to turn Marseille’s season around: “We have not been playing well this season so it will be difficult for us against Liverpool. Our 2-0 win over Besiktas is the type of result that can turn a season around – because of how we have been playing we were not expected to win that one. But that win gave us all a lift; it was more like what the fans expect from us. I scored and I want to score at Anfield.”
Cissé isn’t the only former Liverpool number nine to make a return to Anfield to play against the Reds this season, with Robbie Fowler also due to return with current club Cardiff. Cissé says he just wants to score, regardless of who it’s against: “It does not matter if it is against your old club; my job is to score goals for whoever I play for.”