Carragher's yellow peril casts shadow over Liverpool's ultimate ambition

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The Independent Football

Jamie Carragher has learnt over the past eight years that misfortune can lie in wait over even the most promising season but if a booking for the defender were to accompany a Liverpool win tonight even the most enthusiastic Merseyside victory parade would come laced with sorrow. The club's outstanding performer of the season is a match away from a European Cup final - and a booking away from a suspension.

It was testament to the fierce loyalty that Carragher has for Liverpool that, as he considered this possibility yesterday, he resolved that if he was to get a yellow card then it had "better be worth it". The comparisons with Roy Keane, who missed Manchester United's 1999 European Cup final through a suspension earned in the semi-final, are not overstated either because Carragher's contribution to Liverpool's season has been equally significant.

At 27, and comfortably the club's longest-serving player, the praise for Chelsea's assumption of the Premiership title did not seem to have had much effect on Carragher. When it was put to him that tonight's opposition have a reputation for invincibility, he replied with a raised eyebrow. "Have they?" he said. "A lot has been made of Chelsea's team spirit. It's always easier when you're winning. You've got great team spirit and everyone's patting each other on the back. It's when you go through difficult times you show the real team spirit.

"There's a quiet confidence that if we bring our Champions' League form on to the pitch we've got a decent chance of going through. At Anfield [in the Premiership] if any team deserved to win that game it was us. Even they'd say that. They showed the spirit and came out winners. But if we put up a performance like that I'm confident we can win."

If Chelsea's season has been built on the resilience of John Terry, then the same could also be said of Carragher with Liverpool, who can point to a record of only six goals conceded in the Champions' League as opposed to the 12 that their opposition have given away. This season they have both come to embody the spirit of the clubs that they joined as schoolboys and yet, while Terry looks set for a career filled with triumphs, the future for Liverpool and Carragher is much less certain.

There is still no better spokesman for the mood of his native city than Carragher who, despite growing up as an Evertonian, has edged aside even Steven Gerrard as the man with whom Anfield feels the most natural connection. Unlike Gerrard, he has never given the slightest hint that he might leave and, in a team that has been radically transformed by the signings of Gérard Houllier and Rafael Benitez, Carragher, who was given his debut by Roy Evans, is a reassuring link to a more familiar past.

So when Carragher says that he can "smell" the ambition that Liverpool's support have to reach the final in Istanbul on 25 May then it is a statement that is worth listening to. "A lot of Chelsea's squad are big players, international players, but I'm sure this atmosphere will be something they've never experienced before," he said. "No disrespect to Stamford Bridge, but it'll be something else here. Speaking to people on the street, they're so desperate to get those days back. They can smell it. We're very close to getting back where we were in the past and that will create the special atmosphere.

"We're a long way behind them in the Premiership, but you've saw the effect the crowd had when we played Juventus - and you'd have to put them on a par with Chelsea. We're looking for that kind of performance again. The club has been built on success in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and all of a sudden it's just gone. We had a little spell under Gérard Houllier, but I think the crowd can sense that these are the days they had 20 years ago. They'll make the most of it."

The reconciliation of Liverpool's glorious history with their less-celebrated more immediate past is a burden which every player has to bear, but for a Liverpool kid growing up in the 80s it is all the more poignant for Carragher. He accepted that his team find themselves underdogs but argued that Liverpool had bridged the gap since their three defeats in the Premiership and Carling Cup. What matters just as much, however, is a Champions' League place next season.

"This could define our season, if we go out I'm sure the headlines will say we're fifth in the League and have gone out of the Champions' League," he said. "I'm aware of that, but we've just got to believe we can go through. This is the biggest club competition. I know some Chelsea players said the Premiership was the priority, but that's out of the way now. Hopefully we do want it a little bit more - and that will show on the pitch."

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