Riise believes out-of-form Liverpool will still finish in the top-four

Look at us in 2005! Ex-Liverpool left back John Arne Riise says it will be a ‘RELIEF’ for out-of-form Reds to play Champions League ‘with nothing to lose’… and Norwegian believes Steven Gerrard is ready for the Anfield hotseat NOW after Rangers triumph

  • Liverpool play RB Leipzig tonight off the back of six consecutive home defeats
  • The Champions League last-16 second-leg is being played in Budapest, Hungary
  • Former defender John Arne Riise insists the Reds will still finish in the top four
  • The Norwegian also spoke about Steven Gerrard and his success at Rangers 
  • Riise played with Gerrard at Anfield and they won the 2005 Champions League

The astounding unravelling of Liverpool’s season has seen their domestic form plunge to incomprehensible depths – a change in focus and country may just be the catalyst needed to build some momentum.  

John Arne Riise can empathise with Jurgen Klopp’s current predicament, having played under Rafa Benitez in his first season in charge 16 years ago when Premier League struggles were vanquished from the mind come midweek Champions League nights. 

‘We had nothing to lose – when we were struggling at home, playing away in the Champions League was almost a relief,’ the Norwegian says, ahead of Liverpool’s last-16 second leg against RB Leipzig tonight.

Liverpool are reeling after six home defeats on the bounce and are in European action tonight

Former Liverpool left back John Arne Riise still believes the Reds can finish in the top-four 

‘On our day, we could beat anybody. For Liverpool now, the confidence is so low but they can use this to take their mind off their home form and still show they’re one of the best teams in Europe.’

If only it were that simple. Even Riise admitted there was never a point in his career when he was reeling from six consecutive home defeats. Tonight’s ‘home’ leg takes place in Budapest due to Covid restrictions, just like the first match. 

Perhaps, for the first time in the club’s history, an Anfield absence is a blessing in disguise. 

‘Pep Guardiola said this season Anfield is different,’ 40-year-old Riise tells Sportsmail. ‘Imagine how that feels for the home side. It used to be like you were winning 1-0 before the game started because of the fans.’

Arriving at the club in 2001 from Monaco, the Norwegian left back was an instant hit with supporters, with his free-kick rocket against Manchester United a standout moment.

Steven Gerrard regularly referred to close friend Riise as ‘Ginge’ in his autobiography and could not speak highly-enough of him. Unsurprisingly, that feeling is mutual. 

‘I remember when I used to play with Stevie and Xabi [Alonso], we knew each other’s game so well,’ Riise tells, in explaining the current lapse in form of Liverpool’s flying full backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

‘They always knew where I was and I knew they’d cover my defensive duties. Now, for Trent and Robertson, they’re insecure because they’re not playing with the same midfielders or back four.

Riise was a member of Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League winning side with Steven Gerrard

‘For a defender, that’s the worst feeling. You can see they’re so eager to go forward but the ball doesn’t come as quick as usual. The crossing as well hasn’t been at the same level.’

It didn’t take much for Riise to mention Gerrard, not long after one of the biggest weekends of his ex-captain’s career, after he guided Rangers to the Scottish title in his third season as a manager.

‘I texted him yesterday and the job he has done is unbelievable,’ Riise states, in glowing reference to his former team-mate. ‘I don’t think people actually realise how much of a winner he is and how much hard work he puts in.’

Riise pauses, then carries on: ‘Look Klopp is safe, obviously, but when he decides to stop, Stevie will be next.

Gerrard has admitted he would love to become Reds boss in the future, but not just yet

‘Any other guy, you would think too young, too soon – but he’s a Liverpool man. And I think he’s ready for sure. But it depends on when Klopp is going to leave his post.’

Gerrard dismissed the idea of moving to Anfield – this year at least. Klopp, too, stated yesterday that he is going nowhere, despite the new vacancy with the Germany national team. 

The here and now is the priority in his sixth season in charge. Riise believes turning around Liverpool’s current blight is the ‘biggest challenge’ of Klopp’s managerial career.

The blowing of a two-goal lead tonight could be the most damaging dent yet.

Liverpool beat Leipzig last month but it didn’t trigger a change in momentum – can it this time?

Riise insists Klopp can still guide his side to a deep run in Europe, just like Rafael Benitez did in 2005 (L-R: Jamie Carragher, Benitez, Gerrard, Riise, on the eve of the final in Istanbul)

With just over two months of the season left though, Riise retains an almost fanciful sense of optimism: ‘They’re still trying to reach the top-four and I still think they’re going to make that. I still believe.’  

Currently seven points off fourth-placed Chelsea with 10 games left, time is running out. Failing that though, there is a second route. A route which served Riise well back in ’05 after they were pipped to fourth by neighbours Everton: win the Champions League and you automatically defend your crown. 

It could not seem further away for this out-of-sorts Liverpool side right now, but the history-makers of 2005 should serve as inspiration for this current group to work towards another final in Istanbul come May. 

Watch every UEFA Champions League exclusively live on BT Sport, including Liverpool v RB Leipzig from 7pm this Wednesday on BT Sport 2. Sign up contract free with a BT Sport Monthly Pass for just £25 per month. For more info visit bt.com/sport 

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