Reds board the trans Europa League express!

All this concern about the volcano ash has by passed me by.

I live near a major airport and we have the planes flying over our area every three weeks so I have enjoyed an extended break of peace and quiet. There also is something reassuring that for all the human race’s technology and ingenuity, mother nature can still occasionally see fit to wave a metaphorical finger and remind us of who is boss!

However, as the week progressed I began to realise that this dam volcano might well hinder the preparation of our brave boys as they go into the UEFA Cup semi final against Atletico Madrid – this is a serious and altogether different matter!.

Although the air space restrictions have been lifted, it was clearly too late for the team and they have embarked on a 1200 mile journey top get to Madrid (dam, just 200 miles too much to start singing that Proclaimers song). This involved all manner of transport and preparation even altering the players diet – I don’t think this includes something from the British Rail buffet!

Even though the team is hardly embarking on something equivalent to scaling Mount Everest on a unicycle, and will enjoy better comfort than many travellers have done over the past few days, this has prompted many Michael Palin style travelogue from the papers (click here for Guardian and here for the Telegraph).

Readers of this blog who are longer in the tooth may remember the cartoon version of The Harlem Globetrotters? Wherever they went to play in the world they used to roll up in a mini bus. I think we should do the same, it would be great for team spirit. Rafa seems up for it.

“When I was playing, we were doing 12 to 14 hours by coach….”

It would be great, imagine Kyrgiakos asking to stop at about 2am in the morning for a kebab (it is the only time to really enjoy one), and Aquilani, in-between bouts of travel sickness, asking “Are we there yet?” Imagine everyone singing along to Stevie’s Phil Collins tapes er… ok perhaps not, best take the train!

Hopefully the team will travel by the shortest, quickest, most comfortable means available although you can take this to the extreme. Apparently part of the journey involved chartering two coaches to take them from Euston Station to St Pancreas – a journey of about half a mile. Sadly this sort of luxury won’t be an option for the fans. Again UEFA appear to have hesitated and dithered over the scheduling of the match and, as a result, look to have ended up putting fan’s needs right to the back of the queue. Should this be a surprise? However, the ingenuity of Liverpool fans on the continent is well known and born out of years of experience. I’ve no doubt they will still be at the Vicente Calderón Stadium if not in full force but certainly full voice and with legendary travelling tales to tell. You simply cannot keep a good Red down!

To the game and although I jest, the travelling could have a serious effect on our performance. Atletico’s midfielder José Manuel Jurado thinks it will have no impact.

“I’m sorry that they have to travel so many kilometres to get to Madrid, although I don’t think it’s something that will be noticed on the pitch, I think, more than the journey, they could be more tired because they played on Monday, but in a semi-final like this you don’t notice fatigue.”

Of course only the team will be able to answer that however, without decrying the performance of Inter Milan the other night, surely Barcelona could have done without their 20 hour trip to the San Siro? This must have affected their performance? Add to that, as Jurado suggests, the after affects of Monday night’s game and maybe we will have our work cut out?

Inevitably thoughts turn the to the two Champions League games we played against Atletico last season (for the two match reports click here). We should have won the away leg. We dominated for long periods abut couldn’t administer the killer blow and ended up drawing 1-1. In the home leg was slightly different were we snatched a late equaliser to Maxi’s goal – who of course will be cup tied tonight, for us.

The common theme running through both games was our inability to take our chances and with Torres out perhaps we will need to avoid something similar? However we will be encouraged by the fact that Atletico’s form hasn’t been the best of late. Despite reaching the Spanish Cup final they have lost four of their last five league games and are now mid table in the La Liga.

So, will Rafa be tempted to take the game to the hosts and try for a vital away goal? I guess the paramount priority is to be walking out at Anfield with a chance. Given the travel perhaps Rafa will opt to keep his powder dry and concentrate on containing?

Prediction? I do think it will be difficult for us with the travel and the previous games between the sides have been tight. However I see us doing enough to get a draw and take us to go back home, via train or plane, with a vital away goal in a 1-1 draw.

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