So here we go. Another ninety minutes (or may be more) and we’ll know if our season is still on for a most unexpected climax.
People can mock the UEFA Cup (I still won’t call it the Europa League) or the “consolation cup” as I heard someone call it the other day but it is a trophy with history and, in the context of other British side’s progress in European competition this season, our achievement it getting this far should not be ridiculed. It is also, as trophy looks go, a mighty fine specimen! Let them mock!
The build up to the tonight’s match has been slightly over shadowed by more Juventus rumours which, like Brown, Cameron, Clegg etc, have become little more than part of the background. It was nice to see us making the headlines for a different reason yesterday by signing midfielder Jonjo Shelvey from Charlton. Shevely is clearly one for the future but it’s the immediate that is of concern tonight. One wonders just how much influence the outcome of the next three weeks will have on the club’s future? Win the UEFA Cup and get fourth then things might just bowl on although I don’t think anyone would say that this isn’t papering over the cracks. Lose one or both and well…..
Tonight’s task is simple? We have the experience and have been in this situation before this season, having to make up a one goal deficit, however, as Barcelona found to their cost last night, football is not always straightforward. We also have home advantage although, Madrid Captain Antonio Lopez seems to ready for it
“We are confident and determined, although we know that it’s going to be a very complicated game, in which Liverpool are going to show a different side to the one at the Calderon. At home Liverpool always go out very strong, but we are also going to take a lot of fans there. There are seven planes going there, we will be backed.”
Which his more than we had transport wise a few weeks ago! Team wise Rafa appears to be facing a problem. David Ngog (hamstring) and Dirk Kuyt (calf) are struggling. Dirks injury must be bad as he seems to be indestructible! As we know, Torres is also out so perhaps Ryan Babel will move inside which is something I’ve always thought he should be given a chance to do.
Because of all this the role of Steven Gerrard will come under more scrutiny. His two goals on Sunday, all be they against Burnley, prompted many to suggest that he has come good at the right time. A tad premature perhaps but the goals were typical Gerrard and showed signs of the player we have been used to over the years but sadly, hasn’t really been too prominent this season.
After the game Gerrard talked about the lack of belief in the squad cased by injuries to key players such as Torres but one wonders if those comments, although directed at the team, have a specific relevance for him personally.
“I won’t lie. Sometimes when you lose your top striker, it can damage belief and affect your confidence, but this was much better. It was important we scored a few goals against Burnley and won convincingly.”
From being a key player for so many seasons Gerrard has been something of a lost sole this season. All too often he has drifted out of games to the point were he’s become virtually anonymous. Why is this? Injuries? Torres’ absence? The unrest at the club? The constant expectation of everyone? Perhaps its Rafa’s tactics and the varied position in which Gerrard has played? How often has Rafa gone for caution by playing both Lucas and Mascherano or Gerrard in less advanced role? What about the quality of the players around him? Said Gerrard of new boy Maxi
“Maxi has been terrific for the last five or six weeks. It would have been great to have him on Thursday because he’s an intelligent player who can unlock defences. He is on the same wavelength and, as a footballer, it is a pleasure to play with good players and that is what Maxi is, a fantastic player”
I also thought Aquilani and Gerrard linked up well together on Sunday. Aquilani had a hand in three of the goals which included both of Gerrard’s. Does Gerrard need at least one player “on the same wavelength” to function? Only he will know the answer to all this but lets hope he build on Sunday, it couldn’t happen a more opportune time?
How will Rafa approach the game? He has already spoken about Atletico’s strengths.
“We know they are very good on the counter-attack and Aguero and Forlan are dangerous because we know both can score goals. We have to work very hard. We had the experience of playing them in the Champions League [last season] and they also beat us in a pre-season friendly. But if we can’t keep a clean sheet we are ready to score more goals.”
Perhaps the injuries and the enforced changes will out fox Madrid? Babel’s pace will cause a problem in a different (more “dangerous”?) position and they didn’t have to face Aquilani in Spain. It is likely that Gerrard will be in a different position so they will have plenty to think about. I guess the important thing is make sure we don’t concede and then take our chances, above all we have to be patient.
Prediction? Even though Benfica are a better side I think it will be tighter tonight. However, there is something in the pit of my stomach that suggests, for all the troubles and disappointment this season, we will get something to look forward to at the death. Then again it could just be wind!
2-0 but a tense, tense affair.