Carragher: Liverpool should be happy with Europa League
Defender talks down pressure but Benitez refuses to give up as Reds play for Champions League survival
Tuesday 24 November 2009
Jamie Carragher prepared Liverpool for the likelihood of elimination from the Champions League last night by insisting it would not be "a disaster" and declaring that the Europa League would still present them with the chance of winning silverware against a strong field.
Carragher has always ranked the Uefa Cup triumph, which was part of Liverpool's 2000-01 treble, as an even greater achievement than the side's Lazarus-style recovery in the Champions League final against Milan in Istanbul four years later. Though the prospects of progress in the elite tournament are not entirely dead ahead of tonight's encounter with Debrecen, he insisted that the side must "accept it and move on" if they are eliminated at the group stage for the first time in manager Rafael Benitez's five-year tenure.
"I think because we have done well in recent seasons other people outside the club tend to take it a little bit for granted that Liverpool will get into the knockout stages," Carragher said. "But it isn't easy. Manchester United didn't make it through a few years ago and Barcelona have had a couple of setbacks this season and they aren't sure of making it. It shows how well we have done in the past."
Elimination would represent a blow for Liverpool in their critical pursuit of new equity partners. Their destiny lies 456 miles away in Florence tonight, where Fiorentina will progress along with Lyons from Group E if they defeat the French side. But providing Liverpool defeat the Hungarian champions, who have conceded more goals than any other side in the tournament and are yet to record a point, a draw in Florence would mean Liverpool needing to beat Fiorentina 3-0 at Anfield. If Lyons win, any victory for Liverpool in the final game would see Benitez accomplish another piece of Champions League escapology.
Carragher is preparing mentally for the worst, though. "Stevie [Gerrard] and myself won what was the Uefa Cup back [in 2001] and it was a great moment," he said. "It is still a chance to win silverware and there are some great teams in that competition. Benfica looked really strong against Everton and Valencia are in it too. Obviously, we are all still hoping we are in the Champions League come Tuesday night. Whatever happens, you have to move on and look forward."
Benitez may well have Daniel Agger returned to central defence. The Dane trained with a headband around a wound which had required five stitches on Saturday. Glen Johnson should also start though Yossi Benayoun, a recipient of human – not horse – placenta in his attempts to recover from a hamstring injury, said he was not fit to play a full game. "I can't see myself playing the full 90 minutes. I don't believe that is a realistic aim after missing so much training," he said. Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel did not travel.
Despite suffering cramps and looking less than fit against Manchester City on Saturday, Gerrard is also fit for a game Liverpool will surely win. "He was tired the other day; it was a difficult game to play 90 minutes of," Benitez said.
Benitez is in a tighter spot than ever before. Liverpool had the same four-point tally from four games two years ago and advanced at Marseilles' expense by winning in southern France. But they trailed Marseilles by three points after four games, while Fiorentina are five points clear of them.
Tonight, they will need to make history again, not least by winning a match on Hungarian soil for the first time. The last man to find the net for them in this country was Emlyn Hughes, in a 1-1 draw at Ferencvaros, 39 years ago.
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