Saturday 18 November 2017

Return of 'Mr Liverpool' key to visitors' statement of intent

Jason Burt

You don't always appreciate what you've got until it's gone. Forget Fernando Torres. The day that Jamie Carragher, 33 years old, stops pulling on a Liverpool shirt will resonate around Anfield in a far greater way.

Even the club's website calls the defender 'Mr Liverpool'. This was a victory, a performance, an afternoon of catharsis that will quickly become a part of Liverpool folklore.

Yesterday there were three snapshots of play that highlighted Carragher's iconic worth. For the first, he sensed where Torres was heading as the striker latched on to a through ball. Torres shaped to shoot and Carragher positioned himself superbly to block the effort. If he had not Torres would have scored and history would be different. But Carragher stopped him.

It was a moment that appeared to visibly lift Liverpool and Torres barely had a touch after that.

Then came the second. The ball struck Lucas on the arm on the edge of the area -- it would have been harsh to award a free-kick and Andre Marriner waved play on. But Carragher rushed over to the young Brazilian and delivered a lecture on the need to concentrate -- he did the same to Martin Kelly. Both Lucas and Kelly had impressive matches.

Finally, in injury time, with Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic on the turf trying to claim a penalty after Glen Johnson's challenge, John Terry hurtled towards Marriner to protest. Carragher saw him and headed off the Chelsea captain. Arms were raised, a push in the face, a push back and the two defenders tangled behind the referee.

Carragher epitomised Liverpool's defiance. It was all the more remarkable as he had not played for two months through injury.

"His heart and his determination and his pride in playing for the football club got him through," manager Kenny Dalglish said.

Each tackle, each interception, each block was met by a pump of the arms as Carragher pushed himself on as he always does. This was, in a career packed with displays full of character, one of his very best. In their hour of need, he responded to what his club wanted.

The betting had been that Carragher would be the first Liverpool player to boot Torres up in the air and earn a booking. But the betting fraternity was wrong as it misread the man. Carragher is too determined a figure to give in to such unprofessionalism.

His point would be made by taking the points, by shutting Torres out -- and what motivation Liverpool must have drawn from seeing the striker depart. Maybe it was no coincidence that soon after Raul Meireles hooked the ball into the net. They deserved to win.

Liverpool have missed Carragher. A dislocated shoulder, suffered away to Tottenham in late November, hit hard although Dalglish, with every day that passes, has provided more and more evidence that he deserves to be confirmed as Liverpool's long-term manager. Any doubts, and they are understood to be fewer and fewer, that John W Henry has are being removed.

This is a different Liverpool from even a few short weeks ago when they struggled in the Merseyside derby with a defence that appeared unable to cope. With Carragher returning, Dalglish persisted with playing three central defenders and it was a clever tactical formation, albeit one that meant Luis Suarez remained among the substitutes.

It's a disappointment not to see a £23m striker take to the field in such a momentous encounter but Dalglish's tactics were spot-on. Chelsea were at first contained, then stifled and then beaten. Wins over Fulham, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Stoke City are one thing. But this was a test that would show where Liverpool are going under Dalglish. It was, in that, a statement of intent. And, now, no one should doubt the seriousness of that intent. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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