x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Chelsea's nemesis Carragher still indispensable to Liverpool

Aged 33, the vice-captain is not getting any younger, but he will reserve his best for the Stamford Bridge visit on Sunday, as he usually does.

Jamie Carragher, rear, has represented Liverpool in 680 games, and the ageing vice-captain remains indispensable.
Jamie Carragher, rear, has represented Liverpool in 680 games, and the ageing vice-captain remains indispensable.

The taunt has become familiar, rehearsed and repeated over the past seven years, delivered safe in the knowledge that theirs is a glorious past.

"You ain't got no history," Chelsea are certain to be told today. It is not a history comparable with Liverpool's, anyway, and a man with an innate understanding of the Merseysiders' past and politics is partly responsible.

Because Roman Abramovich's roubles have not brought the ultimate prize, a team funded by oil and gas finding Scouse sweat impossible to shift.

If Jamie Carragher is remembered for one match, it is the 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan. Yet his two career-defining performances came at the semi-final stage, each resulting in Chelsea's elimination.

Of the 2005 second leg at Anfield, Steven Gerrard recalled simply: "We survived because of one man - Jamie Carragher. He was a man hell-bent on not letting the lead slip. He was prepared to offer every last drop of sweat and blood in his body to get us to Istanbul. Carra was a colossus."

Two years later, with a similar scenario, Chelsea were unable to score at Anfield again.

"My performances, especially against Chelsea in the second leg, confirmed that when I was at my best I was a centre-half capable of taking on any forward in the world," Carragher later said. He tends to reserve his best for Chelsea, as twin displays of defiance last season, when the Merseysiders won both meetings, indicates.

His personal history is distinguished, especially against Chelsea, his future a subject for greater debate. The question is not how many games he has played for Liverpool - this will be number 680, a total surpassed only by Ian Callaghan - but how many he has remaining.

"It's not an obituary," said Kenny Dalglish earlier this month. As a Liverpool loyalist, the manager would be especially reluctant to pension the vice-captain off.

But at 33 - and, given his huge workload over the years, an old 33 - Carragher is showing signs of wear and tear, including a calf injury that has kept him out of the last two games. Early-season errors were uncharacteristic; one gifted Bolton Wanderers a rather irrelevant goal, but the concession of a penalty, albeit one Dalglish disputed, resulted in defeat to Stoke City.

At his peak, Carragher was something of a contradiction: rarely described as quick, but only really beaten for pace by Thierry Henry. In his autumnal years, a habit of backing away to the sanctuary of the penalty area has become more pronounced.

It amounts to an invitation to speedy strikers, a category that includes his former teammate Fernando Torres. A warrior appears ever more fragile.

And yet it is a sign of his own character and others' failings that Carragher still seems indispensable. Daniel Agger's Liverpool career has been a stop-start affair because of injuries, Martin Skrtel has failed to realise his early promise and Sebastian Coates, the summer signing from Uruguay, is yet to start a league game.

While Anfield adjusts to a new thinking in the era of sabermetrics and moneyball, concepts introduced by owners Fenway Sports Group and director of football Damien Comolli, its link with the past has an influence that cannot be measured purely in numbers.

Carragher is an old-fashioned communicator, forever barking at teammates who have strayed from their correct position. He also possesses a big-match temperament, as Chelsea can testify.

While it is a new age at both clubs, Chelsea's Liverpudlian nemesis is a throwback, trying to revisit his history. It is a trick he can only continue to pull off for a limited amount of time, but it could include 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge.