‘We have it in our hands’: Liverpool look for another special Champions League moment
Ten years on from a dramatic comeback in the Champions League, Liverpool will again look to Steven Gerrard for inspiration when they face FC Basel in a must-win match on Tuesday.
On December 8, 2004, Liverpool welcomed Greek side Olympiakos to Anfield needing to win by two goals to reach the last 16.
They were leading 2-1 with four minutes remaining when the ball fell to Gerrard on the edge of the penalty area and he bludgeoned a ferocious shot past Antonis Nikopolidis to send The Kop into a state of delirium.
Gerrard, then 24, ended the season by hoisting the European Cup into the Istanbul night beneath a shower of red tickertape after a famous comeback against AC Milan in the final.
Given Liverpool’s poor recent form, the chances of a similar conclusion to the current campaign appear remote, but that 2004 encounter with Olympiakos provides a positive omen.
Liverpool’s 0-0 draw at home to Sunderland on Saturday left them 15 points below leaders Chelsea in the Premier League. Prior to the Olympiakos game, they also found themselves 15 points off the pace, and the leaders on that occasion were also a Chelsea team led by Jose Mourinho.
Gerrard had spent the previous close season mulling over an offer from Mourinho to join him at Stamford Bridge, but if the sporting context surrounding Basel’s visit is familiar, Gerrard’s personal circumstances are now very different.
He has yet to accept the offer of a new, short-term contract from Liverpool and has found himself moved in and out of Brendan Rodgers’ starting line-up amid concerns about his waning powers of endurance.
Having started on the bench against Sunderland, he will start against Basel, but Rodgers has urged fans not to pin their hopes on another Olympiakos moment, saying: “We can’t always rely on Stevie.”
Liverpool were pegged back by an 88th-minute goal in their last Group B outing, which saw them draw 2-2 at Ludogorets Razgrad, but it did not alter the permutations for Tuesday’s game.
Beat Basel, and Liverpool will join group winners Real Madrid in the last 16, where they have not set foot since 2009. Fail to win, and they are out.
“We are still very much alive and we can’t wait for the game against Basel at home, which will be another very special European night for sure,” said Gerrard’s midfield partner Lucas Leiva.
“If we win, we get through, so if you look at the positives, we have it in our hands.”
Basel won 1-0 when the teams met in Switzerland in October and with a two-point advantage and a superior head-to-head record over both Liverpool and Ludogorets, a point is all they need.
Basel coach Paulo Sousa admits regretting his decision to leave Swansea City in 2010, which paved the way for Rodgers to guide the Welsh club into the Premier League a year later, but he says he would derive no extra satisfaction from knocking the Northern Irishman out of the Champions League.
“If we can make it through, we will be delighted,” the former Portugal midfielder, a Champions League winner with Juventus and Borussia Dortmund as a player, told the Fanbookz website.
“That was the target for us in the first place, and we knew how difficult that would be, but we are just one game from making it a reality.
“I respect Brendan, and the job he has done for Swansea and Liverpool, but on Tuesday we will focus on getting what we need to qualify.”
Ivorian midfielder Serey Die returns from suspension for Swiss Super League leaders Basel.
Marco Streller is fit again after a back problem, but fellow striker Giovanni Sio has been sidelined by a knee injury.
Striker Daniel Sturridge remains out of action for Liverpool with a thigh problem, while Mario Balotelli is a doubt after missing five games due to a groin injury.
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Published: December 8, 2014 04:00 AM