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London – Brendan Rodgers has challenged his players to restore Liverpool’s European reputation with a night befitting Jamie Carragher’s latest “remarkable” milestone.
Carragher will make his 150th European appearance this evening when Liverpool attempt to overhaul Zenit St Petersburg. In doing so, he will add his name to an illustrious list which includes Paolo Maldini, Raul, Ryan Giggs, Clarence Seedorf and Javier Zanetti.
Given they trail 2-0 from the first leg in Russia last week, the odds are stacked against Liverpool but Rodgers is hoping the lure of creating another piece of Anfield folklore will galvanise his squad as they aim to show they are not a spent force on this stage.
Rodgers knows what a cacophony Anfield’s crowd can make on such occasions – he was part of Jose Mourinho’s coaching staff when Chelsea were beaten in the 2005 Champions League semi-final – and feels it is time for Liverpool to make a statement. “The legend of this club has been based on nights like this, big games and big comebacks,” said Rodgers, who will be without the ineligible Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho.
“It has been about the club and the supporters coming together. I remember Jose spoke at that time of how he didn’t think (the goal Luis Garcia scored) was over the line but the referee gave it. It was under massive influence, there is no doubt about that. The atmosphere was as good as you will ever get.
“People will be looking at it thinking that Zenit, having been in the Champions League and having that lead, will come and win the game. But if we can get the result and performance, it is another signpost in terms of where the group is going.”
Failure to progress would bring the curtain down on Carragher’s European career. He will retire at the end of the season but Rodgers has made it clear how important he feels the defender is to his team. When he first arrived, Rodgers had been keen to promote Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel – absent tonight with a knee problem – as his first-choice partnership but Carragher has not made a blemish since returning to the starting line-up against Norwich last month.
“To get to 150 European appearances is a remarkable achievement from a genuinely remarkable player,” said Rodgers. “Even at 35, in terms of pure defending, he is still the best we have.
“I got to the stage where I felt – and this had nothing to do with how Martin was playing – we needed to be more vocal. The team was quiet and lacked organisation and leadership. My gut feeling was to put Carra back in. His performance level since has been remarkable. Why did I not (put him back in) earlier? Sometimes it takes time for you to see it. That was the simple explanation.”
There is little doubt Liverpool have lost some of their lustre. It is four years since they were in the Champions League and midfielder Lucas feels that they may have been preoccupied with other targets.
“We need to look at the bigger picture,” said Lucas. “People keep talking about the top four after we win games but sometimes it takes longer than fans and players expect.
“This is a big game in a big competition, one we really want to do well in. I am sure we can turn it around.” – Daily Mail