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.
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.
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.