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Jamie's right to stress how vital these games are; RED WATCH.

Byline: ANDY PROUDFOOT

IT MUST be a long time since a trip to Sunderland was being described as part of a 'massive' week for Liverpool FC, but that's how Jamie Carragher has portrayed the upcoming threesome against the Black Cats, Lyon and the boys from down the other end of the East Lancs Road.

Notwithstanding the tendency of footballers to attach great importance to a friendly against a Blue Square Conference side, such is their fear of being seen to drift off-message by their manager, you can see where Jamie's coming from. A poor result at Sunderland, who looked a decent side at Old Trafford, and the suspension of disbelief that many are choosing to indulge with regard to our title hopes might be abruptly shattered, leaving us staring at the cold reality of another prematurelyended Premier League quest.

That in turn would heap the pressure on for the visit of Lyon, with the possibility of another trophy going south should we fail to capitalise on home advantage.

And as for United, with the chance, albeit remote, that Michael Owen could pop up and score a deciding goal, well that just doesn't bear thinking about.

Now you'd be forgiven for wondering what's brought on this sudden anxiety over the possibility of this doomsday scenario taking place, and I can almost feel the metaphorical slapping of my cheeks as many of you urge me to snap out of it and take a cold bath. There's plenty of evidence to suggest that things aren't as bad as they seem, there's a long way to go, yada yada yada.

Indeed, the last performance against Chelsea was by no means poor, and, as Rafa is constantly reminding us, games like this turn on small details such as Mascherano losing possession which led to their break downfield leading to Anelka's opening goal.

But the return to our traditional reward from Stamford Bridge, after last season's delight at smashing their unbeaten home record, was disappointing as it was a missed opportunity to reassert our right to sit at the top table.

We've lost all the difficult games so far this season, a stark contrast to last year, and no amount of stockpiling goals against the likes of Stoke, Burnley and Hull will offset that if we carry on looking that vulnerable in the big games.

So we can afford to lose a few more if we convert some of the last campaign's draws into victories, but last season's aberration whereby Man U won the title by beating up the small kids is unlikely to be repeated.

So if I'm to get my mojo back, I want to see the Reds really perform when the pressure's on. That ability to rise to the occasion was evident in spades last season, and it can't, or shouldn't, disappear with the loss of one player.

Nor should its restoration be dependent on another's return, or should I say arrival, from injury. We've yet to find that confidence which, stopping just short of arrogance, is essential to the ability to both control games and find the right moment to pick off opponents who have been manipulated where we want them.

We might be short of alternative options at present, but we won difficult games last season without Torres and Gerrard, never mind Alonso. When the players remember this, and regain last season's conviction and commitment, then perhaps my disposition will improve along with our results.

Hopefully there'll be many more 'massive' games to come; and they won't be about scrabbling in to next season's Champions League.

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Jamie Carragher
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 14, 2009
Words:599
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