Carragher talks up 'Rafalution'

Scouse survivor acknowledges the importance of a Spanish accent. By Steve Tongue
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The Independent Online

As Spanish accents increasingly replace French ones around the corridors of Anfield, it is reassuring to hear one of the Premiership's enduring rivalries, between Manchester United and Liver-pool, being discussed in authentic Scouse tones.

As Spanish accents increasingly replace French ones around the corridors of Anfield, it is reassuring to hear one of the Premiership's enduring rivalries, between Manchester United and Liver-pool, being discussed in authentic Scouse tones.

Apart from a clutch of hopeful youngsters, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are the only local lads left in the dressing room, and it is up to them to make sure the new Spanish Armada takes on board the implications of a fixture like tomorrow's.

Asked last week if players such as Josemi, Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia understand the nature of the occasion, Carragher responded in his rat-a-tat Mersey brogue: "If they don't, they'd better hurry up! They watch a lot of Premiership games on television and will be aware that Man-chester United, along with Everton, are our two main rivals. They're massive games, the first you look for on the fixture list to sort your tickets out. And we've got a decent record at Old Trafford over the years. We'll have to ask Danny Murphy if he'll come back for the game.''

Murphy, with his astonishing record of winning goals against United, has flown south to Charlton, further diluting local influence. Consolation for the Kop is that the new Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, appears to have secured some gifted Spanish replacements for the many underachievers he has loaned out or sold.

As befits a full-back, Josemi is safe, if less spectacular than the exciting pair in front of him. Alonso in central midfield wants to go forward, whereas Dietmar Hamann's natural instinct is to move the ball sideways; he specialises in killer passes inside a defender to exploit the pace of Djibril Cissé or Milan Baros, though the latter has lost his place to Garcia, the slender little link-man signed from Barcelona with a touch of Kenny Dalglish about him.

Carragher, installed at the back alongside Sami Hyypia, says of the newcomers: "They've only played three or four games and will take time to adapt, but they're good players. Alonso's passing is very good and Luis Garcia was probably man of the match against West Bromwich Albion last weekend.

"As for the manager, every-one has a different way of doing things. He's brought in a lot of new players and got rid of a lot, so that's the biggest change, in personnel. Gérard Houllier was successful to a certain extent and Benitez has proved in Spain that he's successful, so hopefully he can bring that here.''

As a contemporary of Rio Ferdinand, who has graduated with him from England's youth teams to the senior squad, Carragher will offer a genuinely warm handshake to United's prodigal son before kick-off tomorrow. "I wish him all the best because of what's happened, which is unfortunate. He'll cope very well, no problem about that. He's a happy-go-lucky type of lad and I'm sure he'll be fine.

"I was out for half that time last year with a broken leg and that was bad enough. Obviously, I had little targets to aim at, but he's just been training when it seems like there's no light at the end of the tunnel. At the end people say the time has flown by, but probably it hasn't flown for him, it has probably seemed twice as long.

"He's a top player, he proved that at the World Cup and probably came out of it as the best centre-half in the world, which was proved in his price tag when moving to Man United. I think he'll be a big bonus for them coming back. Last season they missed him in the second half of the season and you saw that in their results.''

Taking on a United team marooned in mid-table will be a new experience for Carragher, even after more than 300 games for Liverpool. He is not expecting the current malaise at Old Trafford to become permanent: "By their standards it's been a disappointing start, but they always come on strong in the second half of the season. To be fair, they've got an injury list and the players they're missing are big players. There's a long way to go, it's just that the start Arsenal and Chelsea have had makes it look so much worse.''

It will be a timely test. In Premiership visits to Tottenham and Bolton, Liverpool have not shown the vim of recent home victories over West Bromwich and Monaco, both of which had supporters using long-forgotten words like "entertaining'' and "attack-ing''. Tomorrow, however, three points by any means will do, as what Merseyside is calling the "Rafalution" goes on.

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