LOOK, we should probably just view this as another version of mental and embrace it accordingly. We wanted the madness, we wanted the chaos, we possibly could have been a little more specific on exactly what it was we were expecting.
We wanted all that glory from the end of last season to continue from day one, we wanted continuation, we got rebirth, we got ‘reset’. You know that moment when you decide to press restart on your computer because it’s not doing what it’s supposed to and you think giving it a bit of a kick will sort it out but the pages come back in weird orders and don’t look quite the same as they did five minutes ago? Yeah, that. But the thing is – it always works out doesn’t it?
It’s going to be fine. Relax. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. There, feeling better already aren’t you? The three and a half hours of penalties fading away. The ‘terrifying/hilarious/absurd/will somebody – anybody – please miss just to get this over with please?’ feeling subsiding. Calm again. Calm and reasonable in the light of day.
And if we’re being reasonable, what would you like first? Negatives or positives?
To be perfectly honest, I can’t hear you. That’s not how these things work. Yet. So let’s assume you want the negatives and get them out of the way shall we?
We can’t defend. We still can’t defend. Not when it really matters, not when we really need to and quite definitely not from set pieces. Oh, Kolo and Mamadou were fine most of the evening with that one tackle from Kolo (and you know the one I mean) being somewhere just North of immaculate. Jose was pretty damn smart all night, back to his most Enrique-ish, back to his strongest and maddest and Manquillo continued to be Manquillo, got Saturday out of his system and did what we expected him to do.
See that? See the way all those negatives fade into positives in isolation? I have a theory on that, I’ve just theorised it, this very second, you are now seeing the working outs of this theory.
We still can’t defend though. Jose does the other Jose bit and loses his man from a set piece and a glancing header gives ‘Boro an equaliser.
Our midfield doesn’t work. It lacks cohesion, it doesn’t seem to know what it is, doesn’t seem sure what it wants to be, isn’t certain of its instructions. BUT. Lucas was great wasn’t he? Lucas did that whole holding thing and dropped between his centre backs and played it simple and moved it forward and bossed the role – and why did Rickie give Kolo the armband when he left the pitch? That was Lucas Leiva’s armband, Kolo may be a leader but Lucas was leading. Lucas showed there is space for Lucas, possibly not next to Steven but space still.
And all the Jordans were great. Both the Jordans that is, we didn’t get to see the other Jordan, imagine how much running he’ll be able to do at the weekend. Both the Jordans were young and sharp and sensible and did the intelligent stuff without any fuss; played it sensibly, played it clean, played it smart whether they were sitting in a 2 or pushing up in a 3. Aware, sensible, astute, they gave Adam Lallana the space and the freedom to do whatever he wanted and he wanted to do everything.
Lallana. Imagine Lallana once he’s settled, once he knows everybody’s runs, once everybody knows where he’s going to put them, here he’s going to play them in. Loves a turn does Adam, loves to move round in a little circle and confuse that guy that thinks he’s marking him. Makes space with circles, gives himself freedom, more circles than anybody since Xabi Alonso. Like watching footage of Alonso on fast forward. Circle, circle, burst. This boy’s good and he’s going to get better, we’re going to build plans around this boy. Oh? And? Back heel flicks in the box to set up his mates? Yeah, this boy’s good.
Raheem’s good as well though. Real Madrid levels of good if the papers – bored of making up stuff about Ross Barkley and moving on to making up stuff about Raheem Sterling – are anything to go by. They’re not, let’s ignore that one right away shall we? Let’s concentrate on the fact that Raheem was great again. Let’s concentrate on the fact that we shouldn’t have needed him to play for two hours in the League Cup (or whatever we call it nowadays) about 80 hours before the Derby. Let’s think about mental preparation and the little things that affect it. I was doing the negatives, let’s do the negative here then.
You’ve got 30 seconds left of a cup tie. 30 seconds left of extra time. 30 seconds of maintaining a hard fought 2-1 lead. 30 seconds until you turn labour into procession and everybody remarks on the progress and forgets the struggle that preceded. What do you do?
a) Carry the ball down the line, continue your interplay with Enrique and Suso, take it to the corner, hold it up, use your ridiculous upper body strength to keep possession near the flag, invite the foul, invite the throw-in, the free kick?
b) There is no b. It’s a). Everyday of the week it’s a). Schoolboy stuff. Don’t pass back. Never pass back. Particularly if there’s nobody there to pass to.
What’s this do to Raheem’s confidence? How’s his mentality affected? Did it affect his penalty? The 5th, the one that was supposed to end the game, 10 pens before we finally reached conclusion. How’s Raheem for Saturday now? If we’d lost? Is he thinking ‘if we’d lost?’ Does this inhibit him? Does it stop him trying the ridiculous? Start him on Saturday and tell him he’s Raheem Sterling. Crack on, forget it and don’t read stuff like this.
And if we’re doing negatives? If we’re doing starting Saturday?
Markovic. Go’ed Lazar lad, show us what you can do. I don’t know what Lazar can do. He’s in the game in small doses, it passes him by for ages. He loves to put his foot on the ball and then move it on. At the moment he loves to take a touch too many. And then another and another and another. He wants to beat too many men, doesn’t want to release it but doesn’t want to shoot either. He’s looking a lot like a more frustrating Craig Johnson at the moment. Beat all the men. All the men, all the time. It’s unfair to pass judgement yet but I’m on the verge.
Rickie Lambert. Taking Brendan’s theory that the Liverpool ‘jersey’ (seriously, does anyone other than Brendan call the shirt a jersey?) is a heavy jersey then Lambert’s currently weighs a bloody ton. He wants to do well, he’s desperate to do well, he’s doing his damnedest to live the dream but he’s struggling. He can’t make the impact he needs from the bench, he’s unconvincing when he starts. He’s drifting wide and dropping deep, he’s trying to make it happen and he’s doing that old trick of having nobody to pass to in the place that he’d expect himself to be. He’s Peter Crouch-ing it. He needs a solution and it may be the same solution that Mario needs.
Mario. Flashes of Mario. Flashes of ‘Jesus, did he just do that?’ punctuated by moments of ‘try and look interested’. I can’t read Mario, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read Mario. I don’t think Mario ‘does’ body language, I think he may well be absolutely impenetrable. But I do think that he’s also dropping deep and moving wide and looking for that solution down the centre.
You could claim that solution calls itself Luis and isn’t here and wouldn’t have been here anyway but you’d be wrong. The solution’s name is Dan and if he’d been here he’d have been the focal point and everybody would have had time to gel, to coalesce, to knit together, to learn, to develop but he got broken by an arrogant, ignorant, owl faced idiot.
And there’s your key. Cohesion. There’s my theory. There was good all over the pitch. You could see the good. You could see the shape, see the tactics, see the desire, see some of the movement, see the individual performances but you couldn’t see the focal point. The focal point was missing, IS missing. The focal point needed to be the lad who knew what we were doing last year, the lad who could bring the continuation. We lose Sturridge in December and all those new guys have had their chance to bed in bit by bit by bit and they’ve moved round Dan and they’ve seen what Dan does and in the next game Rickie does Dan’s job while Mario does what Mario did or vice versa or however you want to play it and Adam does all the false nine stuff he was doing last night and Raheem switches with Lazar and Jose sits and waits to usurp Alberto and all the Jordans, any of the Jordans do the Jordan job and Suso arrives from the bench to say ‘you forgot me, how could you forget me, I made all the bloody difference and here I am to do it again’ and reminds us of how great he is and Mignolet makes crucial saves and actually SHOUTS at his defenders and organises (and who saw that coming?) and still remains undervalued.
And all that good, all that very, very individual good in yet another fairly ordinary performance comes together and these lads, who don’t actually know each other yet, become a team and the madness comes back. The real madness, the glorious madness, the madness we asked for.
It’s all going to be fine.