Djibril Cisse believes the lack of fans in the stadium is hurting Liverpool during their current struggles as they prepare for a Merseyside derby behind closed doors.
Liverpool have slipped to sixth in the Premier League and go into Saturday’s match against Everton desperate to avoid a fourth-consecutive Anfield defeat – unthinkable during a 68-game unbeaten home run that was ended by Burnley last month.
Empty stands have certainly played a role but former Liverpool striker Cisse believes the absence of fans will be felt most keenly on derby day.
“As a professional player, you have to take it as seriously as if the crowd was there,” Cisse told the PA news agency. “But as a human it takes something off because sometimes if you have bad momentum you need the crowd to cheer you up.
“I have played in empty stadiums and it is not the same. In a derby, you need the fire of the fans.”
Cisse experienced some of the biggest rivalries in Europe during his career – a Rome derby with Lazio, playing for Panathinaikos against Olympiakos, and facing Paris St Germain with Marseille – but said the Merseyside derby has a unique character.
“It is special because the two stadiums are so close, but what makes it even more special is because in the same family you will have some Liverpool fans and some Everton fans,” the Frenchman said.
“When you hear the word ‘derby’ you think of hate. Two clubs that hate each other, but that is not really the case. For us as players we still knew the importance of the game but it’s not the same as PSG-Marseille or Panathinaikos-Olympiakos.”
But a ‘friendly’ derby did not mean a less intense one.
“You can feel the difference during the whole week,” said Cisse, who scored a decisive third against Everton at Goodison Park in December 2005.
“The fans in the city make sure you know the game is really important for them.
“As a foreigner, when I arrived in Liverpool (in 2004) I heard about the derby but didn’t really know the meaning of the derby for the people.
“I was quite close to Stevie (Gerrard) and he told me about how important the game is so I was ready to give 100 per cent to make sure Liverpool was the team of the city.”
Cisse – part of Liverpool’s Champions League-winning squad of 2005 – is remembered by Liverpool fans as an exuberant character with a series of wild haircuts, the accidental lord of the manor who bought a house with a title in Cheshire, and a joker in the dressing room.
Relaxed under Rafa
“It was a relaxed atmosphere,” he said of Rafael Benitez’s regime. “But we knew when it was game time, when it was training time. We knew the limit.
“Even in derby week it was really relaxed and friendly but we knew when we have to go to war, we go to war. We knew what we had to do.”
Cisse’s time on Merseyside was also marked by a broken leg which cost him five and a half months of his first season.
With injuries taking their toll on Liverpool again this year, Cisse said the impact was always felt well beyond the pitch.
“When it’s a leader of your defence – I’m thinking of Virgil Van Dijk – you can be a little worried,” he said. “Even if you trust all of the squad and the players going to replace him, it is still a big loss so you are worried.
“But you don’t really have time to think about it. You have to be ready and focused, and to help the new players who are going to replace them. They are under a lot of pressure because they have to perform and do as well, and it is not easy.”