Carragher grows into a Red colossus as Liverpool rekindle ambitions of yesteryear

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The Independent Online

Bill Shankly, the founder of Liverpool's great tradition, the man who thought he had committed the last word in intimidation when he pinned up the plaque in the players' tunnel that says simply, "This is Anfield", never knew Jamie Carragher.

Bill Shankly, the founder of Liverpool's great tradition, the man who thought he had committed the last word in intimidation when he pinned up the plaque in the players' tunnel that says simply, "This is Anfield", never knew Jamie Carragher.

It was one sadness amid Liverpool's glory last night because Shankly would have adored the big, brave Scouser. He would have loved his resilience, his dogged refusal to accept the possibility of defeat. He would have been in agony choosing the appropriate word to describe it. Almost 24 years after the great man's death a reasonable call is "colossus".

This would have been appropriate enough here because Carragher seemed to grow a little taller each time Chelsea, rouble-rich and apparently genius-led, were repelled by his brilliant obduracy ­ and that of his Finnish team-mate Sami Hyypia. It was a defensive alliance that deserved recognition way beyond Liverpool and Helsinki because it will be one for the football ages if it does indeed prove the foundation for Liverpool's fifth European Cup.

This possibility must surely have been sharpened by Chelsea's failure to break down the strong red line of Rafael Benitez; no doubt Jose Mourinho will draw on every positive, including the possibility that Liverpool, so close to an epic achievement in front of their own fans next week, may suffer from the inhibitions which overtook their opponents at key moments last night.

Dismayingly for Mourinho, though, it was his most reliable lieutenant, Frank Lampard, who missed the greatest chance to break down the Liverpool cover after a fine cross by William Gallas and head-down by Joe Cole left him unmarked under the crossbar.

Suddenly, Chelsea, and Lampard in particular, looked somewhat less the children of an all-encouraging god. In fact, it was Didier Drogba who most seriously challenged the sense that Liverpool had come through a season of trial and misadventure and were now entirely attuned to the possibility of glory in a tournament that the heirs to Shankly had once threatened to annex.

One of the club's less engaging supporters ­ there was no shortage of them within bellowing distance of Mourinho ­ had just made the point that greatness can never be acquired in one season, however, spectacular. In fact, he simply screamed, "18 titles, four European Cups", when the man from the Ivory Coast almost punctured the Liverpool confidence.

He beat Carragher, the lion of Turin in the previous round, for once inside the box and switched the play to Eidur Gudjohnsen in one moment of potential mayhem. But Carragher grew strong at that broken place ­ and to the point of invincibility.

Liverpool came to Stamford Bridge underpinned by their superb resistance to Juventus, and in the the first half they achieved a clear edge. Indeed, if Xabi Alonso, the Spanish playmaker who has become such a key creator, had slipped into one of his better rhythms, Chelsea's composure would have been tested even more deeply.

The momentum was born of Liverpool's willingness to get on the ball and play it, both long and short. Aficionados of Alonso's lacerating capacity to turn a defence inside out with one perfectly weighted delivery, were progressively disappointed by his failure to produce some of his more devastating work. Liverpool were also frustrated by the tight hold Claude Makelele exerted on Gerrard, but if Liverpool were kept several steps from Champions' League heaven, their hopes remain vibrantly alive.

Some of Liverpool's strengths were predictable and this was particularly true of those central pillars, Carragher and Hyypia. Luis Garcia was also filled with optimism and life.

In the second half the intensity was at times quite remarkable. It was European football augmented by English shot and shell. Mourinho hoped for a Dutch injection of that quality when he brought Arjen Robben on for Tiago after nearly an hour. But for Benitez, the man who said so dryly it was possible for his Liverpool to lose four straight games to Chelsea and then win all that mattered most in the fifth one, there was the intoxicating possibility of starting the process one match ahead of schedule.

It was an exhilarating thought that was somewhat dampened when Alonso was given the yellow card that ruled him out of the second leg for what seemed one of the night's more innocuous challenges.

This was a night when Benitez's team had shown that they have acquired some fine habits of mind under his stewardship of a difficult year. They had also picked up on a rather older Liverpool tradition. It was to produce some of their best football of the season the nearer they got to the greatest prize.

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