It’s Only A Game Of Football

Rivalry: Competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.

How true is that meaning when we are talking about football? Or more to the point when it is Liverpool -v- Manchester United. The fixture itself is one of the biggest, hard fought, competitive games in the footballing calendar, although not officially a derby game as they are not from the same city, it is still up there with your Glasgow, Yorkshire, Geordie, London and European Derby matches.

But why is there so much hatred between Liverpool and Manchester United? To be honest it’s all a bit hypocritical, take Wayne Rooney for example, a Liverpudlian through and through, and given the fact that United supporters hate us scousers they would noy mind him scoring the winning goal for them in a cup final, a World Cup Final or even in the European Championship final, and we certainly would not complain if a United player did the same, so hatred is probably too strong a word, although recently it did not feel that way.

The recent Europa League games between Manchester United and Liverpool was probably two of the most tension filled matches we have seen in a long time, the chanting, which was much more than just good humoured banter and to be fair it was coming from both sides, the fighting and scuffles set football back thirty years and has no part in today’s modern football, and any punishment should be dealt out on both sides, banners should be checked for derogatory wording  before being allowed in to football grounds as they create tension and are just another form of insult, that is up to the clubs and ground security to check this.

Even though the good old fashioned United v Liverpool games are still as exciting as ever, does it really matter, as in Liverpool’s case that hardly any of the players are actually from the city itself, and does this take the edge off the game? If you go back to when Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and the Neville brothers played it certainly seemed more personal, although as professional footballers there was also mutual respect for each other, though at the time it didn’t seem that way.

Yes, of course United have been more successful than us, especially under Alex Ferguson, not so much since he left though, and both our records show historically, that we both have had great teams over the years so jealously plays more of a part rather than hatred, If you look at some of uniteds players in the past like, Geprge Best, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney etc as a football fan you have to say they where great footballers (except when they played against us) and surely Manchester United fans had some respect for players like Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and the amazing although slightly nutty Luis Suarez. Of course all Liverpool fans want to beat United every time and at all cost and vice versa, but after all it’s only a game and if you look at what’s all around you in the world today…it is only a game of football.

Nerves

If the first leg took away a day of my life, tomorrow night has already had everything from Saturday. Thoughts of the possibilities are endless, and my own previously mentioned assertion that Jürgen Klopp’s Reds are determined to milk every possible second out of this season, only adds to the dread.

Two goals up, away from home, ninety to go.

We score one, they need four. 
That in itself should be all the reassurance that I need. From the depths of Autumn, where we were lucky to see two goals in a game, I suddenly expect at least three from a forward line full of options. 

But still…I tend to think that this is the result of seeing all the false dawns of the last quarter of a century and awaiting the next one. An in built warning system, trying to tell me that football waits until you are feeling supremely confident before kicking you in the balls. If you do nor believe me, I am sure there are plenty of members of the 2013/2014 squad that can vouch for that.
 
If you are looking for something more logical to hang your hat on, let ua have a look; As I write this, I am not aware of any injuries or suspensions to the team that started last week. Whilst remembering that Jürgen enjoys mixing things up, it is hard to look past him playing the same eleven again and asking for the same kind of effort. You can imagine him begging for better finishing from Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho, all of the while Roberto Firmino wonders what all of the fuss is about and contemplates his new fedora.

With regards Sturridge, a few people have remarked on how lazy he looked last week and that he was a passenger in the game for long stretches. It is an understandable assessment, though one that doe not take into account the running he is doing off the ball. Time and again in the first half, the ball was played around the edges of the centre circle for two or three passes longer than was needed. Sturridge would find his space and make a run, only for Mamadou Sakho, Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and Alberto Moreno to take turns in ignoring the opportunity and playing the ball into heavier traffic.

While his finishing in the times he did get through hardly inspired thoughts of opportunities missed, he only really stopped that movement in the ten minutes before he went off. I was not surprised that he was knackered.

Divock Origi is being touted for a start in Daniel’s place tomorrow night.  His pace and youth adding to Michael Carrick’s woes last week. On the face of it, I like the idea. Have the lad buzzing all over the place and wearing out their centre halves before introducing Sturridge to harvest the fruit of his labours. The question is, would we support him properly or would we be tempted to lump long balls to all corners of Salford Quays for the poor lad to chase like some sort of spaniel on Formby Beach now the sun is out?

The trouble is that I talk myself in and out of winning positions. I find reasons why we will balls it up and not one of those reasons is because Manchester United are better. The only away player to cover himself in any sort of glory last week, was the keeper. A man who, when he plays us, always seems to look infallible. Thankfully he is playing at the wrong end of the pitch from their point of view, god knows what we would do if he were a forward. He would probably score thirteen goals a season, eight of them against us!

That aside though, the focus remains on the big, blue, Belgian, brute. You know, that lad that looks like a microphone when the cameras pan back or you sit at the top of the main stand. I like the idea that Emre Can got back into the changing room after being elbowed across the throat, only for Jürgen to bawl him out. “Why the hell did you try to get him sent off, if he gets suspended they’ll have a proper player in there next week!” Cue Emre running out of the changing room to the nearest journalist, telling them that poor Maraonne Fellaini barely touched him, and UEFA need not take action.  It was good of UEFA to listen.

United have injury problems across the board, a manager under siege and a derby with their noisy neighbours to deal with on Sunday. Fourth place in the league still appears their best chance at guaranteeing Champions League football next season.

Distractions abound, but their fans will not let them play as meekly as they did last week. They will be aiming to make the atmosphere at Old Trafford, every bit as intimidating to Liverpool players as the one at Anfield was to their own last week. (Hopefully, both sets of fans ignore the part where they sing about innocent deaths and crack on with actually supporting their teams.) 

Klopp has made sure that this is treated as if it were any other game in Europe. Training on the Old Trafford pitch, holding his press conference there later today and staying nearby.  The polar opposite to Luis Van Gaal’s approach last week. I applaud the attention to doing everything right. 
It does not make me any less nervous.  If we chase a goal, they could counter quickly. If we sit deep, the pressure could make Simon Mignolet’s head explode and his hands turn to mush.  I can’t even think about Simon if there is to be a positive thought left by kick off.  (Our keepers are a pet subject of mine, though this is neither the time nor the place.)

If we score one. They need four. I just need to keep repeating that, because even in the darkest corners of my nervous, twitching mind, I can not see them getting four. I hope. Probably best I don’t over think it eh? 

If we score one. They need four.  Sounds straight forward when you say it like that….

Who Are They?

Agents, dietitians, psychiatrists, goalkeeping coaches, goalkeeping coaches mate, mentors, personal assistants………..are all these people necessary in today’s game ? Maybe, but can anyone possibly imagine Tommy Smith or Jimmy Case being told what to wear, what to eat, where to go and what time to go to bed at…….no way. The only people who should stock the players fridge, walk their dogs, pay their bills and iron their shirts are the players wives and partners….LOL.

These days even at Liverpool, there is someone to help the substitutes off with their tracksuit, hand them a water bottle and even tie their bootlaces if needed, to be honest if a player is earning enough money to feed the third world, then he should be tieing his own bootlaces.

If you look at our own bench on match days, there are people there who the players do not even know who they are, men in suits, men in tracksuits, men in gloves, people with bags, people with no bags and men who no one seems to speak to or acknowledge…….who are these people?

Back in the day, our bench would consist of the manager, subs, trainer and that would probably be it, give or take. If you go back to our first FA Cup victory over Leeds United in 1965 the bench was, Shankly and a few other people obviously all connected to Liverpool FC, if you compare that to Liverpool’s team bench today there are a lot more people, all with the their own job to do…allegedly.

Of course football is a much bigger business today than ever before and it is inevitable that there will be a lot more people involved, but are there too many hangers on in football, especially at top level? What did players do before agents, mentors and personal assistants? They coped and just got on with it, but are players paid too much money that they need other people to help them and are players spoilt in today’s game?

Personally, I believe footballers should earn as much as they can while they can, the reason being, most footballers are finished at around thirty five or thirty six depending on what level your at, this doesn’t happen in most jobs when you can go on another thirty years, but saying that I also think that a wage cap should be put on top footballers earnings even at our own  beloved Liverpool, it works in the U.S.A. and there is no reason why it shouldn’t work here.

Footballers have never had it so good, clubs supply them with gloves, hats, scarves and leggings, face protection, padded shirts and shorts for goalkeepers, vests for the winter and if you happen to have your own sponsor, shampoo, face cream, Anti persperant, boots, cars, now which other job supplies all that stuff?

Back to our own club Liverpool, most of our players are looked after very well and of course that’s the way it should be, if you treat your staff well then they should perform to the highest level, but does paying them top dollar make them better at their job ? In some cases at Liverpool that wasn’t always the case, and some players just play for themselves and not the team, Jürgen Klopp is too clever to let that happen again and the present squad is a decent one, but not the best, but he can only work with what he’s got and with the new signings to come, and with the Europa League to play for the season is not yet over by a long shot.

Last Night

Yesterday between 8am and 5pm, I had major concentration issues. A level of nerves and excitement I did not even have pre-Wembley a couple of weeks ago.  With good reason too;
“The Mancs are coming.” 

For nine hours, through a number of meetings, those four words like a drum beat. Every conversation a struggle to crack on, because as I wrote earlier in the week, Jürgen Klopps Reds are not for being boring. The real question was whether or not that inability to be mundane would be to their credit or detriment. 

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Walking in through the park, just as the Manchester United fans were being corralled through along the other path, towards the bottle-neck of an alley onto Anfield Road, we found ourselves stuck in the middle of a group of them. They were here to try and do their bit, no doubt. They had come to shout us down, in Europe, under the lights, at our gaff. Let me know how that works out for you lads.

A quick aside here, there were a couple of attempts within that group to start those songs that were later heard in the ground. Whilst a small number of voices were joining in, it was only a handful and some of the older lads in the group appeared to be telling them to behave themselves. This is no excuse for what we heard in the ground, but a small piece of context.
“The Mancs are here.”

I could reel off all the old clichés regarding the feeling in the ground last night.  “Electric”, “palpable excitement”, “spine tingling” – that last one always makes me think less of an exciting occurrence as it does some sort of impact injury, but I think all I need to say is that the Main Stand was bouncing. The Main Stand, home of decorum, quiet and grumpy old buggers who would rather shout at Jordan Henderson for a misplaced pass than actually sing. Where the idea of standing for longer than it takes to waste a corner at either end, is frowned upon. The Main Stand, whose occupants I had feared for earlier in the day as I coughed and spluttered my way through work with that drum beat in my mind. Feared that the old lads around us, who probably had not had a flu jab, would be struck down by this ball aching cold after two hours in my company.
 
I need not have worried. They were in the rudest of health. They were up on their feet, resisting all attempts from the visitors to drown out “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Uefa’s soundtrack was given the same treatment, drowned in a swirling pool of noise during the coin toss, sadly it will no doubt raise its head again another day. For last night though, that Main Stand was remembering what it was like to be young again.

United almost breaking through at the start appeared to temper the exuberance. Again, I need not have worried. The ground seemed to take a collective breath after the pre-match exertions, and then it rose to the occasion. Joyously and ferverently.
The team on the pitch responded. I had worried in the day, to the tune of those four words, as to which Reds showed up. The answer was there in front of me. The glorious, pressing reds. The hard working, hard running reds. Into everything with a passion seemingly syphoned from the crowd. Hendo’s yellow for winning a ball was ridiculous, and the referee maintained that standard throughout the night. When Dejan Lovren got booked, we thought he had blown for the free kick. Mamadou Sakho stopped on the same assumption, before he hand signal changed from pointing for the free kick, to waving play on in a fluid motion.

The first decision I remember us getting was the penalty. Nataniel Clyne’s one-two on the edge of the box, before being dragged to ground. A bit more obvious than Sunday at Palace, but it took the fifth or sixth official behind the goal to give it. Who decides which official is fifth and sixth? Do they have preferred numbers like Sunday league centre halves? Digression again, move on.
Was I the only person who saw Sturridge pick up the ball and thought it was a bad idea? I can only remember two penalties that Daniel has taken, he missed them both. Once more, I need not have worried. One-nil.  Twenty minutes in and the promise of more to come.

Time and time again Liverpool attacked. Chances were created, but due to some fine goal keeping from a man who seems to save his best for us, ultimately they were not taken. Sturridge always seems nervous against David De Gea, but that’s perhaps a larger point for another time.

The half ends with United not having had an attack worthy of note. The Main Stand fills its collectively rediscovered lungs.

The second half is not as dominant an affair. There are chances of note, but De Gea manages to be the best De Gea he can, which is the only reason that we are not going to Salford for a victory lap and a training session next week.  Shame on both counts really. United put up more of a fight for the first fifteen minutes, not threatening as such but a definite awakening.

It matters not. Just after the hour, Sturridge (unlucky or wasteful depending on your view) is substituted for Joe Allen. He of the previously mentioned two weeks in January. A fresh urgency swarms the pitch. United seem to offer little resistance for the ten minutes between Allen’s introduction and Firmino smashing in the fruits of Adam Lallana’s labour. The Reds imperious. 

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The last fifteen pass with Maraonne Fellaini continuing in his quest for a deserved second yellow card. In that fifteen minutes he steers a late header wide of Simom Mignolet’s goal, but otherwise we have spent ninety minutes singing and shouting ourselves hoarse and wondering how he is still on the pitch. Suspicion that the referee may well be his step-dad is quashed by my cousin, but I like the theory. Louis Van Gaal in his press conference after the match, claims that the big Belgian was their best player. We ask in the car if he knows that the keeper counts as a player too?

So they have gone. Vanquished for this week, hopefully for West Ham United to kick more fight out of them over the weekend. To their place now, two up without conceding, one for us means they need four. Do not go there to protect, go there to dominate. See them off on their own land. Reds imperious, and hopefully, victorious.

Last Minute Drama

“Send us a sample piece,” said the message. No sooner had I replied in the positive, than all of the things I had had in my head to say, seemed to have melded into an incoherent jumble. 

I considered the fallout from the weekends win at Palace, the penalty and Alan Pardew.  Watching various ex-pros and commentators on social media, climbing over each other to denounce Christian Benteke going to ground as anything from a crime punishable by a lifetime ban to the beginning of the end of morals in this country (in front of the family stand Christian, think of the kids!), has been a great spectator sport in and of itself. 

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I can not help thinking that perhaps it is not the place to start, enough people have made fools out of themselves over that in the last twenty four hours and most of them appear to work at TalkSport in some capacity. I thought it was, I thought it was not, fair do, let us crack on with the rest of the week lads because there’ll be something else to stoke the fume next week.

So what then?  Where to start?  With the weekend still in mind, I will mention something that has bothered me for a couple of months now.  This team, from the start of the season – from Couthinho’s winner away at Stoke on the first day – seem intent on making us mere mortals go through the mill as much as possible.  They offer crumbs of comfort along the way, City in the league (twice), Southampton in the Capital One Cup, a Wembley final – I can not bring myself to claim the Aston Villa away as any such thing – that was kicking a twitching corpse. 

I digress.
 
This is a team that has taken us to the last minute time and again this season.  Three penalty shoot outs in the Capital One Cup.  An FA Cup campaign that went to the last minute of extra time in a replay, after already needing two games to get beyond Exeter City. Then there is the league, off the top of my head that was the fourth game I can think of where we got something from the game in the last minute or later.  I originally had five, but it turns Coutinho scored on 86th minute on the first day, it just felt later. 

That aside, I have got West Brom at home for a two all draw. You know the one I mean, Divok Origi equalises late on and Jürgen gets it in the neck for making the players stand in front of the Kop to say thanks. I was in the Anfield Road end that day, I felt sorry for the lad and dad sat next to me, they drove up from Bristol just to bin it off as the board went up to say we were getting eight minutes. If you are coming that far, eight minutes is not saving you a lot of time on the way back, you might as well be fully invested.

Next Arsenal came to town in January.  I had sacked off a ticket because it was the wife’s birthday originally, but got an offer of another in the middle of her shopping trip to L1.  That and a nice lunch and she did not even bat an eyelid. I did not expect that to be the least stressful part of my day.  A night of snow and hail, Roberto Firmino gets a brace.  Arsenal lead 3-2 going into the ninetieth minute, and then Joe Allen – Joe bloody Allen – assures that wherever he goes next year, we will always have that fortnight in January. 

God love the little sod.

Ten short days later, Norwich away.  Match of the season. A match that never felt like being lost even when we were three one down. Walking in, we were talking about Steven Naismith making his debut. That and the benefits of a pint to get rid of a hangover, my cousin says it was the five goals that cured him, I disagree and once more digress. That was the day I started to feel like they were doing it on purpose.  Echoing the boss’s sentiment that they had to keep us in the stand until the bitter end. Leave if you want lads, but don’t moan when you hear the cheer.  Nobody had left that afternoon, and I doubt anyone did against Crystal Palace.

Then of course there was the weekend.  As I mentioned earlier, plenty has been said about how it happened.  For the purposes of this, it is enough that it did. 

With ten league games to go between now and the end of the season, there is a fair chance that the last minute drama will be a recurring theme between now and mid-May. I will take it, I am happy with it to a point. Do not get me wrong, I dream of the days of coasting to three and four goal victories over all and sundry. For now though, this is what we have. It is not pretty, but there is a determination coming to the fore. 

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There is also the double header with Manchester United, and whilst I would much prefer to batter them into submission on Thursday and put next week beyond doubt, I can easily see that one going an extra half hour at their place.

This seems to be the season that the Reds have decided to do everything the hard way. Enjoy the ride, there will probably be a few more lows before the season is out. But the highs, the Joe Allen goals and the last minute penalties, the look on Pardew’s face and Norwich, bloody Norwich in January, the day that made me glad of the long journey home to savour the entire damn thing. These moments are what keep you going when you are not winning things, lending hope of a brighter future just round the corner.  The players will remember it too, it will become muscle memory,

I want the trophies too, but for now at least there is always something to see. 

Differences

So, what is the difference between Leicester City Football Club and our own beloved Liverpool?

Well to be honest, not that much, we both have a foreign manager, great sets of supporters and can both play exciting football, and on our day both teams can beat any Premier League team. The big fundamental difference especially this season is Claudio Ranieri. Raniero has taken a very average Leicester team and has turned them in to worthy Premier League contenders, whilst Klopp has taken over a very  average Liverpool team who are still very average and are a long way away from title contenders even with some of the Liverpool players costing more than the whole of Ranieri’s Leicester team put together.

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What makes a great Premier League team? Obviously the players, manager, and backroom staff are all things that have to be taken in to consideration. We have the Academy at Liverpool, a whole new backroom team from Brendan Rodgers time at the club and of course now Liverpool have a great manager in Jürgen Klopp.

Liverpool still have the same squad, more or less from last season, but is this enough? Well? To win the Premier League it is all about being consistent and Leicester Citys players have been on top of their game all season long, adapting well in nearly every game and grinding out results constantly, that is a sign of a good team, take for instance Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, Ranieri has got these two playing exceptionally well week in week out, unfortunately that cannot be said about Liverpool’s Adam Lallana, Christian Benteke, James Milner and Emre Can, who have one good game in every six or seven games, but can a great manager like Klopp make certain players perform to a higher level more consistently, if the answer to that is no, then maybe it is time for these players to move on.

Obviously, it is going to take time for Klopp to build up a squad of good players, there has never been any doubt about that, and the true fans will have to be patient, the problem is some of the current team are just not Liverpool players, and sure enough some of them will be on their way out at the end of the season, and in all honesty they only have themself to blame, football is all about giving your all week in week out, there is nowhere to hide.

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Rome was not built in a day, as the old saying goes, but it will still be exciting to see who signs for the greatest club (historically) in the world at the end of the season, but more important who will be leaving Anfield and moving on.

Liverpool can not obviously win the Premier League title, but let us hope Leicester do, for their grit and determination, something we could have done with ourselves this season, and to be honest it makes a great change for a small club to be going tap to toe with the big boys, and you never know next season…Leicester v Barcelona….here’s hoping.