Liverpool offer view of life after Gerrard

Click to follow
The Independent Football

For a club where the past exerts such a presence, from the Kop's ritual hymns to the critical eye of heroes from the trophy-laden years in the media seats, Liverpool may well have provided a glimpse of the future during their 3-1 first-leg win over Bayer Leverkusen.

For a club where the past exerts such a presence, from the Kop's ritual hymns to the critical eye of heroes from the trophy-laden years in the media seats, Liverpool may well have provided a glimpse of the future during their 3-1 first-leg win over Bayer Leverkusen.

There is a widespread expectation that Steven Gerrard will leave Anfield in the summer, with Chelsea his likely destination. Liverpool supporters have been concerned that his transfer would deprive Rafael Benitez of his only world-class player. However, the way that a side shorn of the suspended Gerrard planted a foot in the quarter-finals made a mockery of the "one-man team" theory - despite Jerzy Dudek's late aberration.

The mercurial goalkeeper was commendably candid after presenting Leverkusen's Franca with a potentially priceless away goal just before the end. "It will be hard in Germany, and I've made it harder," Dudek said. "It was my fault, and it's always worse when it's the last seconds. The ball bounced up higher than I expected and I didn't have time to adjust. It hit my shoulder and fell to their forward."

He added: "It's tough for keepers. I can't score goals, get the glory. I can only let them in and accept the disappointment. It's hard to be perfect in my job. In the past, I would torment myself, thinking of what might have been, even if I'd played well for the other 89 minutes. Now, I've become more mature. It's partly a change in the dressing-room; there has been a marked difference since the new manager arrived. I made a mistake and I'll get criticism, but there are still plenty of positives. The bottom line is we won 3-1."

Liverpool did it, moreover, without their captain, although they will be delighted to welcome Gerrard back in Leverkusen's BayArena on 9 March. While the victory was gratifying in itself, the manner in which it was achieved pointed to a richer vein of quality than has often been evident during Benitez's first season as manager.

Harry Kewell made an encouraging return, playing himself into contention for a role in Sunday's Carling Cup final against Chelsea. "The focus is always on Stevie [Gerrard] because he's a great player," Kewell said. "But whether he plays or not, the team still have to do a job. There were other players missing, like Djibril Cissé, Fernando Morientes, Xabi Alonso and Chris Kirkland. The way we performed showed the depth in our squad. People may knock us but we all stick together."

The latter comment doubtless alluded to the criticism Liverpool received after the supine defeat at Birmingham City. There was a palpable desire to atone against Leverkusen, when the outstanding contributor was Igor Biscan, who was substituted at St Andrew's. The Croat demonstrated a playmaker's passing range to ensure Gerrard was scarcely missed.

Now the focus switches to the Millennium Stadium, but for all that Benitez must crave his first trophy, it is through the quest for the European Cup that Liverpool's identity as a major club has been established. A 3-0 win, which looked certain after Dietmar Hamann's stoppage-time goal, would have required Leverkusen to win 4-0 at home. Dudek's lapse means they need only half as big a margin to reach the quarter-finals.

Precedents from that illustrious past suggest it need not be viewed too darkly. In 15 previous encounters with German opposition at Anfield, Liverpool had only twice conceded a goal. On each occasion they went on to lift European silverware.

Comments