The captain's armband is not all that passes between Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher in Bordeaux tonight. With power comes responsibility, and so in the absence of the injured midfielder it falls to his fellow Scouser to ensure the Champions' League, not for the first time under their manager, Rafael Benitez, provides a blessed distraction to the toil of the Premiership for Liverpool.
A small but significant shift occurred in the defence offered by the Liverpool manager for his team's latest unconvincing start following the draw with Blackburn on Saturday. Again, the disruption of the World Cup and several international breaks were presented in excuse for a League run that now reads three wins from eight games, along with the prediction that November spawns the start of their true form. Yet there was also the first sign of impatience from Benitez as he bemoaned the failure of key assets to revert to type post-Germany and told them so at a team meeting on Sunday. "It's clear more of our established players need to be at the top of their game," he opined.
Carragher, along with Gerrard, Sami Hyypia and Xabi Alonso to name a few, currently finds himself in that category for the first time in years. Though by no means culpable for the defensive frailties that have developed under Benitez's move to a more expansive style, the 28-year-old's immaculate contribution has been scarred by uncharacteristic hesitancy of late. Against a Bordeaux side for whom victory is imperative to hopes of qualification from Group C, however, and without the injured Gerrard, Daniel Agger, Robbie Fowler and, perhaps, Mohamed Sissoko and Dirk Kuyt, Liverpool urgently require the character Carragher embodies.
"Carragher is one of the players who can give us the qualities we need," the Liverpool manager said yesterday. "Carra never hides. He knows he needs to improve and he is working hard to do so. He knows he has played really well for the last two seasons and that he needs to get back to that level. Since the Everton game he has been better, but I don't think you can say it is down to one player."
Despite their domestic trials Liverpool top Group C and six points from the next two games against Bordeaux should preserve Benitez's 100 per cent record of reaching the knock-out phase. Easier said than done. Though bottom of the group, Bordeaux - who are without former Liverpool player Vladimir Smicer through injury - have won four of five home games this season and were suitably encouraged yesterday when Gerrard joined their opponents' absentee list with a hamstring strain.
Benitez added: "When you are top of the group and away then you must be really, really solid in defence. Bordeaux know they have to win. We have to be calm and not talk about winning before the game. We have a saying in Spain: you cannot sell the skin of a bear until you have caught it!"
Bordeaux (probable, 4-3-1-2): Rame; Jemmali, Henrique, Marange, Jurietti; Menegazzo, Mavuba, Wendel; Micoud; Laslandes, Darcheville.
Liverpool (probable, 4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Warnock; Garcia, Alonso, Sissoko, Riise; Bellamy, Crouch.
Referee: T Henning (Norway).Reuse content