x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Liverpool on the hunt for a silver lining

Carragher is determined to end a barren spell on the trophy front for Anfield side as they take on Benfica in the Europa League.

Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt during training at Anfield yesterday.
Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt during training at Anfield yesterday.

A proud history and a cabinet laden with major trophies has often helped mask Liverpool's inadequacies in recent years. Even during the darkest days, people have turned to the past for comfort. But triumphs of old, whether one of their five European Cups or 18 league titles, are something that they cannot hide behind any longer.

This season, Manchester United could break Liverpool's record of 18 league titles and it is four years since the Anfield Reds won a trophy - the FA Cup in 2006. It has not been good enough for a club of such stature. Jamie Carragher, often blunt in his assessment of a Liverpool side where he started his career 16 years ago, agreed as they prepared to face Benfica in the quarter finals of the Europa League.

"You can't keep records forever," he said. "I've got a lot of respect for Manchester United. They are a great team and we can't be hoping United don't win anything. We need to make sure that we win ourselves. "If they do it, they do it. It will be a great achievement, but we can't complain about that because we haven't done enough ourselves." He added: "We wanted to win the title and challenge for the title [at the start of the season]. Obviously that hasn't happened, but we're still in the Europa League and we're desperate to get our hands on some silverware. Success in that competition could change how the season's been looked upon. In the next few weeks it could all turn around."

Carragher does not share that hope alone. Rafa Benitez, the Liverpool manager, has challenged his side to win all their remaining games to give them a chance of claiming fourth place in the Premier League and lifting the Europa League. Judging by their impressive performance against Sunderland on Sunday, the mood has changed among the players. It was almost as if the pressure had been lifted off their shoulders rather than put on them. Their play was flowing and free-spirited and the margin of victory should have been far more than three goals.

Fernando Torres got two of those, but it was the display of Steven Gerrard that also caught the eye. He has admittedly not been at his best this season. A chat with Benitez after the recent defeat to Manchester United could have helped. "We were talking about how to approach the coming games," said Benitez. "It was a very good conversation and I think we could see the difference afterwards in the game against Sunderland. We were attacking and scoring goals.

"Steven is key for us. When he gets forward and is working hard then everyone follows him. "When important players are pushing forward then everyone else says 'come on, let's follow'. He is the captain going forward with the flag and it's easier when everyone else is with him." And just like they need Torres to add to his goal run of seven in four games, Liverpool need a leader right now. They also need Benitez to have faith in them. He may well adopt more defensive tactics in Lisbon tonight with Lucas returning in midfield as Maxi Rodriguez is ineligible and Alberto Aquilani is ruled out with an ankle injury.

That might see Gerrard shifted yet again, even though central midfield has proved time and time again to be his best position. From there, he can dictate the pace of attack and support the defence. Against Benfica, Gerrard's influence will be vital. The Portuguese league leaders have won their last three meetings with Liverpool. They also put seven goals past Everton in this Europa League campaign. The fans believe in coach Jorge Jesus as he has created a side with a solid backbone in defender Luisao, Mesut Ozil in midfield and Oscar Cardozo up front.

Benfica also have Pablo Aimar to add experience in the midfield. He won La Liga twice and the Uefa Cup with Benitez when he was coach of Valencia. Aimar will be keen to show his future is just as good as the past. Just like Liverpool. @Email:akhan@thenational.ae