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….