Thursday, December 30 – 1999
Patrik Berger has set himself a double New Year target – Champions League qualification with Liverpool and Euro 2000 success with the Czech Republic.
Despite the caution of manager Gerard Houllier, Berger believes Liverpool can clinch a top-three place in the Premiership and a ticket into Europe’s elite competition.
And the 26-year-old midfielder believes the team’s consistency over the last two months, when they have shown an ability to dig out results when missing key players and not playing at their fluent best, is a good sign.
“I think the Champions League is a realistic target and we must go all out for it,” said Berger, who scored the second goal in the 3-1 win over Wimbledon which closed the gap on the leading pack.
Berger admits he expected Houllier’s rebuilt team to be still languishing in mid-table after losing four of their first eight matches. But he has set his sights higher as Liverpool have lost only once in 12 games. “We didn’t start the season particularly well,” he added, “but over recent matches we have played more as a team. We are better in defence and when we attack we always look like we will score goals.
“We haven’t always played our best football, but it is a sign of a good side when you can play poorly and still pick up wins on a regular basis.
“We have 25 great players here, and because of the injuries we have suffered everyone has played a big part in helping to turn our season around.
“We signed a lot of new players in the summer and it isn’t easy to predict how quickly they will settle in.
“With the way we started I thought we would be mid-table at the halfway point of the season, so credit has to be given to everybody for the run of results we have managed to put together. The new players have been fantastic and the quality within our side now is incredible.
“I think the players also understand the squad system which is very important. It is impossible to play the same 11 players week after week.
“A lot of countries take a mid-winter break, but that isn’t the case so we need to keep fresh legs out on the field all of the time.”
A place in the Champions League would set up Berger nicely for next summer’s Euro 2000 campaign.
The Czech Republic will be aiming to go one better than four years ago, when they were beaten by Germany in the final at Wembley on the golden goal rule.
“We are a very experienced team and there is no reason why we can’t do as well, if not better, than we did four years ago,” added Berger, who was recently voted his country’s player of the year after helping them qualify for the finals with a 100 per cent record.
While Berger is excited by Liverpool’s dramatic improvement over the past couple of months, manager Houllier is anxious to play down rising expectations.
“I’m being realistic,” he said. “I’m aware of the demands, but our target is to take very game as it comes.
“I’m very happy with the way it has gone at Liverpool when you consider the amount of injuries and disruption we have had.”
(Copyright: Daily Express, 30-12-1999)