Steven Gerrard last night suggested Liverpool's two-leg victory over Barcelona would send a message of intent to Europe's leading clubs ahead of Friday's quarter-final draw. The England international believes the elimination of the reigning European Cup holders, who surrendered their crown despite winning here through Eidur Gudjohnsen's second-half goal, will make Liverpool a club to be feared in the last eight of the competition.
"We feel we have laid down a marker here," said Gerrard. "We have beaten the best team in Europe over two legs and it's a great night for us despite the result." His club-mate Jamie Carragher was even more effusive, describing the outcome as "the biggest result this club has had in Europe". The central defender added: "Even though we have knocked them out, they're still the best club side in the world so to knock them out is a remarkable achievement."
Liverpool deserved to go through after dominating the first half, hitting the crossbar twice through John Arne Riise and Mohamed Sissoko and drawing several fine saves from Víctor Valdés. It was not until Gudjohnsen was introduced as a substitute that Barcelona attacked with zest. The former Chelsea striker gave Barcelona hope when he beat José Reina with 15 minutes remaining but Liverpool held on to secure their passage.
Frank Rijkaard was magnanimous in defeat, the Barcelona manager admitting that his side had struggled to counter Liverpool's "lively" style of play in the opening half. "They have got a lot of depth, they get forward quickly, they are very direct and they create danger and they did that tonight," he said. "They put in a great performance. It's full of concentration, full of mentality and teamwork and they do it quite well. I think they have possibilities [of progressing]."
Rijkaard conceded, though, that the damage had been done in Barcelona two weeks ago when Craig Bellamy and Riise scored to give Liverpool not only a win but two crucial away goals. "My players worked hard to try and turn the tie around but I think the overall tie has not been decided tonight," rued the former Holland international. "The reality of the situation is that we are out and that is possibly due to the result that took place in the Camp Nou."
Benítez had been hailed for his tactical acumen in the wake of that victory but he played down talk that he had again outwitted Rijkaard. "I don't like to talk about battles between managers," said the Spaniard. "I think it's all about players and what they do on the field. Sure, I think I set things up nicely tonight tactically. We came in for a little bit of pressure in the end but even in the second half we were hitting them on the break and on counter-attacks."
Liverpool will not receive any protection in the quarter-final draw, engendering the possibility of meeting another English club. Benítez claimed he is unconcerned about that prospect - "I am not thinking about one team or another one because for sure there will be good teams" - and instead insisted he wished to cherish this outcome.
"I am not really pleased because of conceding a goal but in the two legs it was really good," he said. "Maybe for the future it means I will have more confidence."
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