20 October 2007

‘This is still the biggest of them all’ - Jamie Carragher

Don't worry Carra. That bald guy is injured. Just look out on Cahill...

by David Prentice, Liverpool Echo

JAMIE CARRAGHER has a mental checklist to work through whenever the new season's fixtures are announced every summer.
The first match, obviously. Then the first home game, followed by the clashes with Manchester United. But most of all, the date and venue of the first Merseyside derby.
"I've always said that for me, as soon as the fixtures come out, I look forward to see when the Everton game is," he declared.
"For local lads like myself and Stevie, it's probably the most important game of the season."
The derby match has always meant more to the local players - from the days when Dixie Dean would send a bottle of aspirin to Elisha Scott on the eve of pre-war showdowns, to seventies slugfests when Jimmy Case, Mick Lyons and co. would kick lavatory doors, head ceilings and butt dressing room doors before running out.
But for Carragher, this season's Goodison clash is loaded with even more personal significance.
"Certainly for me, tomorrow's game will be massively important," he declared.
"We definitely owe them one after last year. The team, the club and me personally.
"I was very poor in the Goodison derby last year. I did alright in the Anfield one, which made up for it a little bit, but with the first one this year being back at Goodison again it makes it a very big game.
"It's probably as low as I've ever felt in football after that game.
"I've lost in a couple of cup finals and had other ups and downs, but last season against Everton was probably as low as I've ever felt because of the score, because I made a big mistake for one of the goals and because I played poorly."
There were mitigating circumstances surrounding Carragher's part in Everton's crucial second goal last September.
He'd missed three weeks football after collecting an injury on the opening day of the season at Bramall Lane and shouldn't have been any closer to the action at Goodison Park than a place in the stand.
But his burning desire to be involved let his heart rule his head.
"I'd been injured and came back too early," he admitted "but I was desperate to play in the game. I probably let the manager and the players down because I wasn't ready to play in a game of that magnitude.
"Maybe I was a bit selfish because I was that desperate to play in it. I came into it cold and it showed. But it's something I'll never do again."
Certainly this year, Carragher will be far better prepared.
While his international club-mates faced a clash against Estonia last Saturday, then a 3,000 mile round-trip to Moscow for a demoralising European Championship defeat on a plastic pitch, he was left behind at Melwood.
The decision to hang up his international boots was entirely his own, and it meant he has been able to work carefully on his derby preparations all week.
There was even one day, with the reserves playing later that evening, that he was the only senior player left working with boss Rafa Benitez at Melwood.
"I've made my decision regarding the international scene and hopefully that will benefit me in the build-up to this match," he explained.
"Players from Everton and Liverpool have been travelling back from Russia this week. I've been back here, which has helped my preparation and that's one of the reasons I made my decision."
It's a decision which should serve Carragher well over the next nine days - a period which could prove pivotal to Liverpool's entire season.
Following tomorrow's domestic set-to at Goodison, the Reds travel to Turkey for a clash of crucial significance to their European aspirations, before the Premier League's two remaining unbeaten records could go on the line when Arsenal visit Anfield the following Sunday.
Not that Carragher will get ahead of himself.
"The manager's very big on taking each game as it comes," he added. "That's the first one and we have to forget about the Beskitas and Arsenal games until Saturday is over.
"It's a massive game for both clubs and I certainly won't be looking any further ahead than that one.
"Both teams will be looking at this fixture as a game which can really give their season a lift and to go on from there.
"Both sides will be looking at it to kickstart the season.
"But I love it, the atmosphere, the whole build-up, everything. You know you're going to come under pressure and you have to stand up to it."
So is he relieved that last season's Goodison nemesis, Andy Johnson, will miss this season's return through injury?
"I'm not bothered," he added. "If they have players out it might give us an advantage, but we might have players out as well.
"Whoever plays, it will be a difficult game - it always is at Goodison because of the crowd whipping things up.
"We know they always raise their game anyway. But we're ready."
And ready to exact revenge . . .

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