I LOVE the first home game of the season. First day of term. Everything clean. Everything fresh. Everything red.
And I love Anfield. I don’t say it often enough. But it still makes me go weak at the knees. It still has the capacity to take the breath away. It’s a love that never diminishes. I live for that moment, at each season’s beginning, when I cross the lights into Oakfield Road and the monolith comes into view. Each time like the first time.
Anfield has always soared above its Victorian red brick enclave, but this time It will be rising to new heights. That big truss thing is there now. The top hat without a a body. The new Main Stand still a scaffold ghost, but its sheer scale now becoming evident.
Bournemouth then. Second game of the season. A Monday night at Anfield under the lights. It will feel a touch strange to start at this time — losing the day just as the game starts — but it won’t harsh the buzz. Not one bit.
Stoke was a top win, but it was always going to represent something of a false start. The whole premise of the contest was too issue laden and baggage ridden to be anything of an informative spectacle. At Anfield things will be different. The contest against Bournemouth is an uneven one, in theory at least, and will provides Brendan Rodgers’ new Liverpool side an opportunity to flex and prance in ways that were never going to be possible even in victory at the Britannia.
At Anfield. On a Monday. On a summer’s evening. Under those lights, we come to see Benteke. To see Roberto Firmino. We want to see them within the context of Philippe Coutinho’s stellar trajectory. To see James Milner dominate. To see Nathaniel Clyne run and run.
Bournemouth — a team Liverpool have only faced six times in their history, twice in 2014, and never in the league — will not arrive as the lambs to the slaughter we may wish to cast them. Rodgers will warn his men that Bournemouth’s season starts here, too. A narrow opening day defeat to Aston Villa will not have dampened the ardour of team or supporters for one of a handful of Premier League fantasy excursions. One of the days that they will have been dreaming of all summer long.
They will come with a game plan, and they will say things in the press beforehand about how they will not come to Anfield to defend or make up any numbers. There will be talk about them being a footballing side that won’t have any insecurity complexes, one that is ready to take the fortress by storm. But Rodgers and his team will know that what the Bournemouth folk say or intend to do doesn’t count for anything. Zero. The level of resistance they will present is entirely predictable and known.
What will count and count for everything for this particular encounter will be the face that Liverpool FC present. The right Liverpool, the one replete with star players and multi-million pound signings, despatches Bournemouth without so much as a by your leave. A functioning home team has this one put to bed by half time or thereabouts.
Name me a Bournemouth player. You can’t. That’s fine. Let’s keep it that way, too.
Brendan will have known before the Stoke match that he would always be permitted more attacking latitude for this first home encounter than he would have been for the inevitable trench warfare at the Britannia. At the Potteries he packed the midfield, but largely with players he felt would offer him some imagination when on the front foot.
Although the football match was won, it was by the finest of margins, and there was little to hint that this latest Liverpool FC incarnation was set up to simply play through teams the way the Luis Suarez-inspired forebears of just two years earlier did. Christian Benteke was left to plough a lone furrow, whilst Jordon Ibe and Adam Lallana were constrained by the inherent conservatism of this kind of contest. Coutinho shifted and probed but runners from midfield were conspicuous by their absence and there were few targets for him to throw a bead on.
Liverpool — even a tentative version of Liverpool — should have enough to pin Bournemouth back onto low-blocked haunches. How Liverpool respond to the obstacle provided should prove an informative insight into just how penetrative this side will be at Anfield this season. We will want to see how the attacking half of the the new team in red function. We will want to see what the goal that this team scores looks like. A lumped cross onto big Ben’s noggin. A Coutinho thread to any one of several potential third man runners. A Firmino skip and a trick and one two, and then a big boom into the top bin. Something pretty would be nice.
On Monday. At Anfield. Under the lights. We want to see what Brendan has planned for Emre Can. Will he sit or will he gallop forward like the wild horse he can be? He may not even play. This one is hard to call. We need to know, that with less to do, that the reshaped defence — and Dejan Lovren in particular — are up to the concentration thing. That they won’t undo the products of attacking labours and ultimately give encouragement to the wide-eyed visitors from a coastal town that they forgot to close down.
Too much to ask for a three or four to nil and loads of questions postively answered? The football gods will inevitably deem it so. Still. First day of term. Anfield. I’m counting the hours.
Go, Reds. Go.
Last match v Bournemouth: December 17, 2014: Bournemouth 1 Liverpool 3 (League Cup 5th Round).
Odds: Liverpool (7-15), Draw (19-5), Bournemouth (15-2).
Injured: Allen (hamstring), Sturridge (hip), Flanagan (knee).
Live on Sky Sports 1. Kick off: 8pm.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo