independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Rodgers in Kop plea to inspire Euro escape act

Luis Suarez wrapped up against the cold during Liverpool’s training session at Melwood yesterday

As someone who sat beside Jose Mourinho on the night the Kop shook with emotion, the night that Luis Garcia's 'ghost goal' took Liverpool to a European Cup final, Brendan Rodgers knows what it's like to be the away team at Anfield on a big European night.

The 1-0 win over Chelsea in 2005 was one of Anfield's great European nights and is something the Liverpool manager has yet to experience from the home dug-out. Even during Roy Hodgson's brief and tortured tenancy there was one when Steven Gerrard came off the bench to score a hat-trick against a hitherto dominant Napoli.

It is why the possibility of Liverpool overturning a two-goal deficit against the Russian champions, Zenit St Petersburg, would carry so much currency.

It would not only keep Liverpool's season alive; it would provide further evidence that Rodgers' overhaul of the club is solidly grounded.

Ability

Rodgers, who was part of Mourinho's backroom staff at Stamford Bridge, agrees with his former boss that Liverpool did not score that night but is aware of the crowd's ability to turn a match.

"It wasn't a goal but it was the sheer force of the crowd that got the goal," he said. "The bottom line was that the referee gave it and it was under massive influence, there is no doubt about that.

"The atmosphere at Anfield was as good as you will ever get and the crowd will be so important for us now. The legend of Liverpool has been based on nights like these – big games and comebacks. If we can get that result, then that for sure is another signpost in terms of where this group is going."

Rodgers' statement in the snowbound Petrovsky Stadium that Liverpool had given a "near-perfect away performance" was met by guffaws on Merseyside. Two-nil is a dreadful away result but Zenit's veteran midfielder, Sergei Semak, who scored the potentially decisive second, confessed his side had been fortunate.

However, the odds are that their luck will hold. The last time Zenit St Petersburg came to England was to win the UEFA Cup in Manchester, a city that had been completely taken over by fans of Glasgow Rangers. They know how to handle an intense atmosphere.

Not since 1991, when Graeme Souness' side beat Auxerre 3-0, have Liverpool recovered from a 2-0 away defeat, a fact that Jamie Carragher, who is an expert on the club's history, would know.

This will be his 150th European fixture and, if Liverpool do not score at least twice, it will be his last. Rodgers admitted that he did not realise until well into his first season on Merseyside just what a fine defender the 35-year-old is.

"It got to a stage where I felt – and this had nothing to do with how Martin Skrtel was playing – that we needed to be more vocal," Rodgers said. "The team was quiet and lacked leadership on the field.

"My gut feeling was to put Carra back in. His performance level since then has been remarkable. Why didn't I do it earlier? Sometimes, it takes time for you to see it." (© Independent News Service)

Liverpool v Zenit St Petersburg,

Live, 3e/UTV, 8.05

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