Derby makes semi better - Downing
Stewart Downing admits the rivalry between Liverpool and Everton is far bigger than other derbies he has played in, and the likes of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have not let him forget it ahead of their FA Cup semi-final.
The two sides travel to London on Saturday, when they meet at Wembley for the first time since 1989.
While Liverpool's disappointing league form has prompted the board to dismiss director of football Damien Comolli, they remain on course for a second trophy this season following their Carling Cup victory in February.
Downing only arrived on Merseyside in the summer, but club captain Gerrard, and homegrown players Carragher and Jay Spearing have quickly underlined the importance of beating their cross-city rivals.
"Obviously Stevie, Carra and Jay Spearing, people like that, have been saying, 'Come on, we have to beat [Everton],'" Downing told the club's official website. "They've been on at us. You can understand that. I've played in semi-finals and against local teams when I've been at other clubs, and people were the same there.
"You can sense it, the atmosphere - seeing the fans and the kids hanging about. They're all stopping you and asking questions about the semi-final. It's going to be a massive game and Liverpool will be like a ghost town on the day.
"It's bragging rights. I sometimes hear [from fans], 'As long as we finish above Everton in the league, everything's fine.' That just shows. If you've grown up with it as a young kid it's massive. It could make their week, it could make their year. We know what's at stake but I'm confident we can get a result."
Liverpool face an in-form Toffees side, who geared up for their trip to Wembley with a 4-0 thumping of Sunderland on Monday, but the Reds will take heart from two league wins over their Merseyside rivals this season.
"I don't really get nervous. It's more excitement," Downing said. "Because it's Everton there's extra pressure but I'm really confident we can beat them. I think we have got the better squad - we just have to prove it. We've already proved it twice - hopefully we can do it again."
Having played in derbies in the North East and in the Midlands, Downing admits the Merseyside derby is bigger than any other.
"It's more intense here - there's more at stake," he said. "At Middlesbrough we classed Newcastle as the derby but I don't think they did us. Birmingham v Villa was more intense than that until we scored early, then it was flat, I thought. Here you can sense the atmosphere in the ground and in the days leading up to it."
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