Reds need Anfield to work another special European night
LIVERPOOL v FC BASEL
(Tomorrow, 3.40am, SingTel mio TV Ch 111)
Former players swear there is magic in the air.
The adrenalin pumps, the senses perk up and, in the mind, calmness eventually takes over from the whole gamut of emotions.
Anfield has given its fans many special nights before. Tomorrow morning, Liverpool need one more.
The Reds waited five years to return to Champions League football, only to realise that time doesn't wait. Rivals have moved on in their absence.
They stand on the precipice of a major embarrassment as they prepare to tackle their final group assignment - against Swiss club FC Basel tomorrow morning. Only a victory can save them from elimination.
Yet, given the malaise that's sticking to them like a leech, winning is easier said than done.
Brendan Rodgers' men are a troubled lot. They can't score enough, they struggle to keep opponents out, and they lack the invention to do anything about it.
A straightforward-looking group phase has turned out to be anything but that, with their solitary win in five games coming in their opener against minnows Ludogorets Razgrad.
Against Basel at St Jakob Park in October, Liverpool were painfully outplayed as they lost 0-1.
But Rodgers' men cling on to hope.
They say that their fate remains in their hands.
"We are still very much alive," said Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva, in defiance.
Skipper Steven Gerrard should know better than most.
Ten years ago, the midfielder harnessed the power of Anfield to turn the improbable into reality.
Greek side Olympiakos' jubilation turned into disbelief, when with four minutes remaining Gerrard thumped in the goal that gave Liverpool a 3-1 win, and the two-goal margin victory they needed to qualify for the last 16.
That season, the Reds went on to lift the Champions League trophy, with yet another dramatic comeback win, this time over AC Milan in the final.
They call it the Miracle of Istanbul.
Liverpool need another miracle to turn this season around.
Fans dreaming of a return to the glory days, following last season's second-placed league finish, have received a reality check instead.
After 15 games, the Reds are ninth in the Premiership table, and are already 15 points behind leaders Chelsea.
Manchester City recently showed how a great European outing can be a shot in the arm.
After a 3-2 win over Germany's Bayern Munich, they went on to notch three straight wins to close to within three points of leaders Chelsea.
Rodgers must realise this is a chance, and maybe their final one, for them to get things right.
They must make the Anfield magic count.
Kolo: Gerrard a man for the big occasion
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure believes their must-win Champions League encounter against Basel is made for Steven Gerrard to create "magic" again.
The Reds captain will return to the starting line-up tomorrow morning (Singapore time) having started last Saturday's goalless draw at home to Sunderland on the bench.
Brendan Rodgers' side have to beat the Swiss side to progress to the knockout stage, and Toure reckons Gerrard is the man who can really make a difference.
And, in light of Rodgers' judicious use of his 34-year-old captain this season, the Ivorian insists the midfielder's class is such that he does not need a full match to impact games.
"He is a man for great days. He makes the magic when no one can make it. That is why he is one of the best players in the world," he said.
"His age is nothing. People just keep talking but, if you have a player like that in your dressing room, it is very important with his experience.
"Players like that don't need 90 minutes to make the difference - only 20 or 30 minutes - and I am really happy to have him as a captain first and as a man because he is a great player."
Ten years on from a dramatic comeback in the Champions League, the Reds will again look to Gerrard for inspiration.
On Dec 8, 2004, Liverpool hosted Greek side Olympiakos needing to win by two goals to reach the last 16. The home team were leading 2-1 with four minutes left when the ball fell to Gerrard on the edge of the penalty area and he bludgeoned a ferocious shot past Antonis Nikopolidis to send Anfield into a state of delirium.
Gerrard, then 24, ended the season by hoisting the European Cup in Istanbul after a famous comeback against AC Milan in the final.
Given Liverpool's poor 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 with Sunderland last Saturday left them 15 points below leaders Chelsea in the Premier League. Before the Olympiakos game, they were also 15 points off the pace, and the leaders then 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 circumstances are now very different.
He has yet to accept the offer of a short-term contract and has found himself moved in and out of Rodgers' starting line-up amid concerns about his waning powers of endurance.
While he will start against Basel, Rodgers has urged fans not to pin their hopes on another Olympiakos moment, saying: "We can't always rely on Stevie." - Wire Services.