Monday 27 May 2019

Jamie Carragher: 'Klopp's men look ready to prove point to prodigal sons'

Facing former Merseyside stars provides no greater motivation for Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp relishes the challenge Champions League provides
Jurgen Klopp relishes the challenge Champions League provides

Jamie Carragher

For every team, coach and player in Europe, there is one trophy that matters most: the Champions League. Except at Liverpool. They stand alone in craving their domestic title more.

Even when the semi-final draw was made, the primary focus of the club's supporters was how a two-legged tie with Barcelona might impact on their Premier League bid.

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The contrast with last season - when Liverpool were far behind Manchester City domestically - is stark.

Anfield is famed for its European nights, but against Porto in the last round it was relatively low-key. Strange as it sounds, there have been moments this season when European progress has felt like a consolation.

That changes now. The Premier League title race is not over but, for the first time since August, it is unlikely Liverpool will win it, and the Champions League is the most realistic chance of a trophy.

It is nonsense to suggest Europe would be a secondary prize. There are two competitions that secure international recognition: the World Cup and Champions League.

It is only because Liverpool have waited so long for the league title that the Champions League has appeared to play a supporting role.

Jurgen Klopp has never seen it this way, which is why he was dismissive of the idea Europe could be sacrificed for the title pursuit. This is the perfect opportunity to go a step further than last season.

Tottenham and Ajax have been outstanding, yet they will be the first to admit underdog status should they reach the final to face Liverpool or Barcelona. The greatest tribute you can offer Klopp's side going into the Nou Camp is that it is a 50-50 game. That is some compliment given the attacking talent in the Barcelona team, not least the greatest player of all time in Lionel Messi.

Barcelona know they face a team who can inflict as much damage on their defence as they intend to on the opposition. Barca never change the way they play, which is what makes this game so enthralling. Liverpool can expect more counter-attacking opportunities than they have enjoyed in the rest of the competition combined. Visitors to the Nou Camp usually play only one way. Defending deep. I know this from my own experiences. In the 2001 Uefa Cup semi-final and the 2001-2002 and 2006-2007 Champions League, we conceded one goal over three away games.

Mentally and physically, they were some of the most challenging nights of my career.

Our strategy was no secret. We wanted to kill the game and took pleasure from the white handkerchiefs waved at full-time. On the first two occasions, we were accused of playing anti-football by Barcelona. Under Rafael Benitez, we were slightly bolder, playing 4-4-2 and winning 2-1 thanks to Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise. It was a more surprising set-up, but was still a counter-attacking style - sitting deep and using our pace to cause problems.

This Liverpool team are superior to those I played in. I knew we did not have the capacity to defend high or take attacking risks on that huge pitch. We had to play as we did.

Klopp sees the game differently, and his players will express themselves in the final third and show that even if Barcelona possess the greatest player, Liverpool can be as exciting as a unit. It could be a classic European match.

Last year, I felt that had Liverpool faced Real Madrid earlier in the knockout competition, it would have been a different outcome. That is because of the Anfield factor, which cannot be undervalued in the second leg. If Liverpool get a result tonight to ensure it is a single, one-off home game to reach the final, it gives them an advantage.

Barcelona may feel they have two players in Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho for whom that will be a more comfortable experience. They will not get an especially hostile reception but Klopp made a rare error when saying they were "Anfield legends". They are not. Liverpool have too many players with titles and European Cup medals in their legends suite to allow entry for those who did not replicate those achievements.

The value of the contribution of Suarez and Coutinho while on Merseyside is not in doubt. Where they stand in Liverpool history is because they left without dedicating their peak years to the trophy pursuit. They came close, of course.

Greatest

Had Suarez inspired the club to the title in 2014, he could have been alongside Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard as the greatest of all Liverpool players. He did not think Liverpool would ever get back to Barcelona's level, which was fair enough at the time. His medal haul in Spain, including the Champions League in his first season, means he has nothing to regret, even if he sees a different club to the one he left behind.

Coutinho could see how the team were evolving and still decided to go. It worked to Liverpool's advantage, given how smartly they reinvested the transfer money on Virgil van Dijk and Alisson.

Suarez and Coutinho left because they were certain they were joining a bigger and better club more likely to win the Champions League. There can be no greater motivation, and no better time, for Liverpool to prove that is no longer the case. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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