Saturday 21 September 2019

Jamie Carragher: 'Vital for Liverpool momentum to avoid early failure in Europe'

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: PA
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: PA

Jamie Carragher

An Anfield decider in the final Champions League group game, with Liverpool needing a two-goal win to guarantee qualification. It sounds familiar. For Napoli 2018, think Olympiakos 2004.

There are always historic reference points when Liverpool prepare for pivotal European fixtures at Anfield - they inspire players and supporters because they can feed off positive memories.

Liverpool are fortunate to be able to dip into their archives and show the current generation they have been there and done it.

Few Champions League nights were more emotional or significant than the 3-1 win over the Greek side.

Although Jurgen Klopp faces the same challenge as Rafael Benitez did on that famous night 14 years ago, the circumstances are much altered.

Understanding

As a club, Liverpool are in a different, much healthier place.

Where we looked vulnerable, Klopp's side look formidable. We went into the Olympiakos game with an understanding of the dire consequences of failure.

We were playing not only to keep our European hopes alive, but to ensure our captain did not leave for Chelsea. Steven Gerrard said as much on the eve of the game, admitting he would have to consider his future if Liverpool were not competing for the biggest honours. He would have left but for the Champions League success.

The course of Liverpool history changed after the Olympiakos win, or more specifically Gerrard's decisive late goal at the Kop end.

There have been few more important goals by any Liverpool player, given what it led to - and what it prevented. It was the ultimate 'Sliding Doors' moment for the club.

Tonight's fixture is not about changing Liverpool's direction off and on the pitch, but maintaining an upward trajectory already established.

It would be wounding rather than catastrophic to go out, but nobody at Liverpool - especially Klopp - will underestimate the importance of getting through.

This is no time for unnecessary and careless mistakes like those in Belgrade and Naples.

There is a momentum around the place that has not been there for years - top of the league, unbeaten domestically and with a genuine chance of winning the title.

European failure can undermine the outstanding first half of the season, inflicting psychological as well as financial damage.

Many are suggesting the club should be prioritising the Premier League, so it would not be too bad if Liverpool no longer had the distraction of the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Football does not work like that. Players and managers do not think that way.

Managers such as Klopp do not want to be watching the latter stages of the Champions League from afar.

They definitely do not want to be playing Sunday Premier League football because of Europa League commitments, which would generally mean kicking off after Manchester City every weekend and playing catch-up. It would hurt.

When you are on the top of your game, success fuels further success. As players, you want to grasp every opportunity and Melwood will be a much better place tomorrow morning if Liverpool make it through. It will assist Klopp over the Christmas period.

The pressure is on, but the challenge for Napoli is as great. If you were to produce a list of stadiums where you would least like to travel to get a result in Europe, Anfield would be near the top, if not No 1.

Forget this is the last group game. The knockout stage begins now.

Catalyst

There is another key difference between the Liverpool team of 2018 and that of 2004 - Klopp's are superior.

It felt like we were always fighting against the odds during that period in Europe, the Olympiakos success proving to be the catalyst for improvement.

Liverpool are already one of Europe's best teams. They are capable of winning the Champions League, so going out before Christmas would represent a wasted opportunity.

Fortunately for Klopp and his players, they have no need to look too far back to comprehend how it will be tonight. They will recall the atmosphere against Roma and Manchester City last year and believe such an environment will bring the best from them again.

Telegraph.co.uk

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