By Séamus Leonard
Queens Park Rangers comes to Anfield on Sunday as the curtain draws on what has been a disappointing season, to say the least, for home side Liverpool. However, all the arguments over what has gone wrong and how it can be corrected next season will cease for 90 minutes as Reds fans bid a fond farewell to one of the club’s most loyal and reliable servants, Jamie Carragher.
He may have announced his decision to retire back in February, but his form in the interim led many to believe that the Bootle native would reconsider and give another season of first team service to the club he joined as a nine-year-old boy.
But Carra was not for turning, and in recent interviews he has explained that his excellent form has only strengthened his resolve to bow out while still at the top. Always leave them wanting more, as the old showbusiness adage goes. Not that Liverpool’s No. 23 was ever showbiz. By his own admission his abilities were limited, but through sheer hard work and determination he carved out a career that saw him win the Champions League (2005), the UEFA Cup (2001), the FA Cup (2001, 2006) and the League Cup (2001, 2003, 2012).
Like every other Liverpool player of his generation, Carragher never managed to land an English Premier League winner’s medal, a fact he, in typically honest fashion, puts down to the sides he was involved in simply not being good enough. But Sunday will be a day to remember Carra’s many achievements, and the club has released details of how they plan to honor the 35-year-old central defender.
There is the small matter of the game to be played, of course, although there is little riding on the outcome. A win for Liverpool would see it clear the 60-point mark, but the Reds will finish in seventh position regardless of the result. QPR were relegated weeks ago, but a victory could move them above Reading and into 19th place depending on how the Royals fare against West Ham United.
Liverpool comes into the game on the back of an impressive 3-1 away win against Fulham last weekend. Daniel Sturridge’s hat-trick secured all three points for Brendan Rodgers’ charges and brought their tally to 70 league goals for the season. Hitting the net was a problem that plagued then manager Kenny Dalglish last season, and Rodgers can rightly point to this area as a positive from his first campaign. In his pre-match press conference, Rodgers admitted he has learned a lot in his debut season in charge and that these past nine months have seen him lay the “base” for what he hopes will be a long and successful tenure.
Rodgers opted for a 3-5-2 system in the first half at Craven Cottage last weekend before reverting to his more regular 4-3-3 for the second period. While the Northern Irishman will want to sign off with a win, he may well be tempted to experiment again, if only for the early part of the fixture.
We all know Carragher’s time is up, but Sunday could also be an Anfield swansong for others. There is some uncertainty over the futures of Luis Suarez, Pepe Reina, Martin Skrtel, Sebastian Coates, Stewart Downing and Jonjo Shelvey, and it will be interesting to see if any of those players leave for pastures new in the summer.
For now, however, let us concentrate on paying proper homage to a no-nonsense defender who has more than earned his right to a place in the pantheon of Anfield legends. It is fitting that he will captain the side on his 737th and final appearance in red. Thanks for everything, Carra. Don’t be a stranger.
If you are in the greater Boston area, you will be able to watch the match at The Phoenix Landing with LFC Boston. Coverage starts at 1100 EST.
Liverpool v Queens Park Rangers
When: Sunday, May 5, 110 EST/1600 GMT
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Previous Premier League match: Fulham 1-3 Liverpool, QPR 1-2 Newcastle United
League Position 2012-13: Liverpool 7th (58 points), QPR 20th (25 points)
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Wisdom, Carragher, Coates, Jose Enrique
MID: Shelvey, Lucas, Henderson
FW: Downing, Sturridge, Coutinho
Subs from: Jones, Suso, Coates, Johnson, Robinson, Assaidi, Coady, Borini, Morgan, Ibe
Projected QPR Starting 11
DEF: Bosingwa, Hill, Onuoha, Traore
MID: Park, Mbia, Derry
FW: Remy, Zamora, Hoilett
Subs from: Cerny, Green, Diakite, Taarabt, Mackie, Yun, Granero, Samba, Da Silva, Townsend, Bothroyd, Magri
Follow Séamus Leonard on Twitter @seamusleonard