With Liverpool preparing to play Fulham at Craven Cottage in a matter of hours, injury problems continue to plague the the Anfield club. Captain and perennial talisman Steven Gerrard will not play due to his nagging groin injury, while fullback Glen Johnson will miss action because of a thigh strain. Additionally, new signing Alberto Aquilani will not be able to build upon his mid-week Carling Cup debut against Arsenal due to illness. Fortunately for Liverpool the £20 million summer signing has not contracted swine flu, but this fact does not improve matters for a club that has been hit hard by injuries and absences.
Despite Liverpool’s massive 2-0 victory over Manchester United one week ago, the Merseyside club continues to battle tumult and adversity in this early Premier League campaign. The Reds have lost five of their last six matches, including Wednesday’s 2-1 exit from the Carling Cup at the hands of Arsenal’s young Gunners. Embattled manager Raphael Benitez continues to put on a brave face, but that task must be becoming increasingly difficult for a man who longs for the league title and is six points adrift of first-place Chelsea. The club’s boardroom struggles are well documented, and the financial noose has been tight ever since George Gillette and Tom Hicks took control at Anfield.
Even with all of these revolving problems, one player has continued to embody the the emotion and core values of Liverpool Football Club: Jamie Carragher. The 31 year-old Bootle native has come under media fire in the last two years, as the defensive stalwart has become a scapegoat for everything from Benitez’s tactics to the lack of progress on the Stanley Park stadium project. Carragher is often his own worst critic when it comes to his form, but his performance against the reining Premier League champions last weekend was nothing short of stunning. To many this notion will seem delayed, but I felt it necessary to point out the obvious because so few are giving credit where credit is due.
His youth may have passed him by and other players certainly posses greater tactical ability, but Carragher is in no short supply of effort and grit. His bone-jarring tackle on Michael Carrick last Sunday underlined this point, as Carra sent the former Tottenham midfielder face-first into the Anfield turf with a clean challenge in the area. Pundits were quick to point out Fernando Torres’ efforts on the day (rightfully so), and the deft touches of Yossi Benayoun. David Pleat certainly chimed in on the Sky broadcast when Carragher proved his metal, but the defender literally threw his body into boot and ball in the dying stages of the match to ensure Liverpool’s emphatic victory.
Carragher has been accused of suffering a dip in form over the last two campaigns, but make no mistake – he is the beating heart of Liverpool. Gerrard and Torres may provide the offensive threat, but Carragher’s steady play on the backline alongside Martin Skrtel is the spine of this club. Many fans will argue that Carra has become too inconsistent, citing the opening match of this season against Spurs as evidence of the centerback’s fall from grace. All premier players suffer poor runs of form, just look at Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. While Carragher undeniably has more playing days behind him than in front at this stage in his career, he is still more than handy in the final third. It will take this continued presence to give Liverpool three vital points against Fulham today, and if the Reds are to truly get their title challenge on track number 23 will play a large role.