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No Place Like Home

With the general mood of impatient despondency that has settled like an unwelcome smog over Liverpool fans, it has taken a returning ex-Red to remind us of how mesmerising Anfield can, and hopefully will, be on a big European night.

Seriously, just try unseeing the Liverbird in trainers. I'm haunted by it. Utterly Haunted.
Seriously, just try unseeing the Liverbird in trainers. I'm haunted by it. Utterly Haunted.
Alex Livesey

What with the sporadic but alarming ineptitude, the curious amalgam of Lovrenesque impulsiveness and Mignolet-driven indecision plus the José Enrique-inspired comedy capers that were on display in the Liverpool rearguard on Sunday, one could perhaps be forgiven for being a tad trepidatious about the imminent arrival of Carlo Ancelotti's free-scoring Real Madrid. The Spanish aristocrats, having finally secured La Decima last May, come to L4 on Wednesday having scored five goals or more on five separate occasions in their ten competitive matches to date and with an array of attacking talent that's both intimidating and, in the case of the oleaginous Cristiano Ronaldo, offensive. (Look, I haven't been around for a while -- you can forgive me one terrible pun.)

As Liverpool's left back meandered about in his distracted torpor, probably contemplating his next safari selfie, his teammates conspired with him to make a spectacularly ordinary QPR side seem like world beaters. With even Bobby Zamora laying waste to Liverpool's defence, many wrestled with the darkest of thoughts about what fresh hell was to come when the Spanish side run out at Anfield. However, when Philippe Coutinho's urgent inventiveness led to the latest of winners, and whilst being strangled by aggressively celebratory bear hugs for the third time by random members of the incongruously delirious pub crowd, your scribbler had a Damascene moment -- this is Liverpool. Everything is possible.

Of course, one cannot blithely dismiss the obvious contrast in the form and comparative squad strength of the Madridistas and their opponents, for it is stark, but such is the legend and lore surrounding Anfield on big European nights and such has been the Redmen's traditional capacity to rise to these occasions, that conventional thinking is redundant. On paper, there is a chasm of class, and more importantly, confidence, between the currently stuttering Premier League side and their swaggering sun-kissed quarry. Brendan Rodgers, as a result, will be relying on a little magic from the terraces to help his side overcome Carlo Ancelotti's charges.

Liverpool's form towards the end of last season and the residual impression left by it has meant that, rightly or wrongly, they have not been used to entering many matches as underdogs. On Wednesday night, however, Real will be strong favourites. Alvaro Arbeloa, now spoiled by the opulence of the Bernabeu since he left Merseyside in 2009, returns to Anfield having done the club some fine service in the past. He's been telling his compadres about the power of Liverpool's old stadium and the passion of those who frequent it.

"You get changed at Anfield and you have one little hook for your shirt, your trousers, your jacket, everything," the full back smiled. "There’s no space, especially in winter when you’re wearing a big coat. It’s very, very small. You’re squashed in but that’s the tradition and the values the club transmits. There’s no luxury and maybe that helps maintain the connection between players and supporters. It has its charm. Then you leave the dressing room and see ‘This is Anfield’. That sign’s the incarnation of a spirit, a way of preparing yourself as you head on to the pitch. I would reach up and touch it before every game – and I’ll do the same on Wednesday night."

If Arbeloa's reminiscence has the faintest whiff of condescension, it is likely utterly unintentional and there is a definite affection, if not awe, in the way he describes the famous atmosphere of Anfield. He spoke of Xabi Alonso's instant phone call after the draw, in which the bearded former favourite bemoaned his lack of luck at missing out on the clash following his move to Bayern Munich. The midfield general of the Rafa Benitez era, when Liverpool last bestrode the biggest European stage, will know exactly what kind of night he will be missing. Arbeloa was happy to paint a picture for those in the squad who were not as familiar as his fellow World Cup winner.

"I’ve told everyone this is an opportunity they shouldn’t miss," insisted the one-time recipient of a very public Jamie Carragher tirade. "They’re used to a stadium that holds 80,000, sure, but Anfield is la bomba, unique. It’s only 45,000 and they say: ‘Well … ’ and I say: ‘Well?’ Those 45,000 make the atmosphere very, very special. I’ve told them to enjoy it. I can imagine what Anfield will be like, how they’ll sing You’ll Never Walk Alone and cheer every corner or throw-in close to our area as if it’ll end in a goal -- and I know it’ll feel like that to us."

It's probably fair to say that if Liverpool are to have a chance at upsetting the odds and winning the tie, then the kind of breathless yet focused aggression and dizzying tempo, with which they began so many of their finest victories last campaign, will have to feature again. Of course, the onus is on the manager and players to have the force of will and strength of technique to impose that level of discomfort on their opponents from the off, but if they show an inclination to do just that, one can be certain that the crowd will become a powerful factor, as the heaving mass of Red gives voice to its burning desire for victory.

Make no mistake, the Premier League remains the Holy Grail for those of us who have attained a certain age and recall the club's monopoly of the domestic title, but in many ways nothing matters more than the European Cup -- Ol' Big Ears -- a replica of which now resides permanently in the oversubscribed Anfield trophy room by dint of the fact that Liverpool have won it five times.

The ongoing travails brought about by the overhaul in personnel and the continuing absence of the sublime talents of Daniel Sturridge have some Liverpool fans viewing this potentially joyous occasion in an absurdly sepulchral and dour fashion. Have the years taught them nothing? Are the memories of Istanbul really so diminished after a decade? Rodgers' Redmen will take to the Anfield turf on Wednesday night as underdogs but do not be surprised to see them leave it as victors, as Real Madrid and their simian featured Welshman cast Baleful looks at the crowd which has taught them about pasión.

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