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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 12 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Apr 23, 2006

Carragher: Reds are closing gap on Chelsea

Jamie Carragher heads for the FA Cup Final agreeing that Chelsea are a better side than Liverpool but believing that the Anfield club are beginning to bridge the gap between themselves and the champions.

The Liverpool defender played a major role in the defiant rearguard action in the final half hour of the semi-final showdown at Old Trafford, when desperate Chelsea battled unsuccessfully to save their double dream.

Liverpool were under relentless pressure by the champions-elect, but clung onto the lead given them by John Arne Riise and Luis Garcia.

Carragher said: 'We can beat them in cup competitions. But they are the best team in the league and they are a better team than us, we are not going to argue about that because the table doesn't lie.

'But we have cut the gap on them this season and we aim to cut it again next season, and we are closer. But it is only in one-off games.

'We haven't got a great record against them, we have only won two out of 10 but those two wins are the most important ones. We have won the very big ones, the Champions League semi and now this FA Cup semi.'

Carragher insists that Liverpool were the underdogs, and added: 'We have had a lot of tight games with them, but they have a bigger squad than us and have more quality. Their `bench' is better than ours and that makes a big difference.

'They are ahead of us but we believe we can bridge that gap. About three teams behind Chelsea are at a stage of re-building, Arsenal are looking very good, and with the addition of a few players they could be right back up there.

'Everyone can see that with a couple of new players, just the same with Manchester United - high class players - we can all be much closer to Chelsea next time around.

'Hopefully we have laid down a marker for next season. We want to go closer to Chelsea in the league. It is achievable but they will bring in a few more players so it will be hard.

'I'm not having a go at them because of their money, if we were in the same position we would be delighted.

'Beating Chelsea is bigger now for us than beating Manchester United, because Chelsea are the best team.

'If we can all get these players in it will be a very interesting Premiership next season.'

Carragher also revealed that Liverpool were surprised by the Chelsea team selection without any width that failed to work in the first half and allowed Liverpool to grow in confidence and grab their goals.

He said: 'Chelsea have been playing a similar style over the last few weeks, a diamond shape in midfield. But we were a bit surprised to see Ferreira in midfield, we thought it would be Geremi.

'But they did cause us a lot of problems at the end with the wide men on. They seemed to have six forwards out there.

'We like a bit of width but they've done well with the way they are playing. It was crazy in the last half hour, it was very much like the end of the Champions League semi-final against them last season.

'They even had a great chance from Joe Cole at the death, just like (Eidur) Gudjohnsen did last season in the European semi.

'But now we are there in the final there is no danger that we will start to think we have done the hard part, it's always tough in a final.

'We won the first final in Cardiff and we now want to go back there and win the last final there.'

John Arne Riise, who suffered the agony of scoring a cracker against Chelsea in last season's Carling Cup final in Cardiff only to finish on the losing side, made up for all that with a clever first goal in the 2-1 FA Cup semi-final victory at Old Trafford.

With potential new Norwegian backers considering a move to buy into Liverpool, a goal and Cup final appearance from one of their most famous-ever players hit just the right note.

News of a potential move by a group of Norwegian businessmen broke on the morning of the semi-final against the West Londoners.

Riise said: 'That goal went a long way to making up for the fact that I scored in a final against Chelsea last season and didn't finish on the winning side.

'Jamie Carragher and some of the lads asked me before the game if I knew anything about the Norwegian takeover speculation, but I don't.

'I was interested to read about it, but I know how big Liverpool are in Norway and it is not surprising for me to read that there are people interested in buying into the club from Norway.

'There are 20,000 members of the Norwegian Liverpool supporters' club, so they would all be very happy if a group from my country got involved.'

Liverpool have declined to comment on the speculation, but are believed to be aware of the plans being put together in Norway.

Anfield sources reckon that such a move has far more financial credibility than the recent failed moves by a Spanish group, but there are genuine doubts that the Norwegians could raise the £500m needed to finance the new stadium, buying shares and five years of Rafael Benitez's team building.

The move is believed to be led by a financial investor, Oystein Stray Spetalen with the backing of hotel chain owner Petter Stordalen.

Riise then showed that Norwegians could produce goals as well as money.

He explained how he outwitted the Chelsea wall, driving his shot between Paulo Ferreira and Frank Lampard.

He said: 'We had been working on the free-kick for the last couple of days. I said to Steven I wanted to take it.

'I could see that Ferreira thought I was going to put it round the wall, I could see him moving to his right to anticipate what he thought was going to be a curled effort.

'So it was a fantastic feeling to score after putting my effort between the two players on the end of the wall.

'I felt in the hotel before the game that I would score in the semi-final.

'Now it will be my first FA Cup final and I can't wait. I joined the club after the 2001 final victory and have always wanted to figure in a final because so many of the other lads have.'

Riise revealed Liverpool's surprise at Chelsea's tactics, saying: 'We were really surprised that they did not play with wingers. That was good for us.

'But we knew that when they went in for half-time they would have to change things because it was not working.

'But in the last 20 minutes Chelsea proved how good they are, and I was really tired. But now we are in the final, and we have certainly done it the hard way, beating Manchester United and now Chelsea.'