ON the opening day of the Premier League football season, three quarters of the pitch at Goodison Park was bathed in sunshine while the remainder rested in shade, such is brooding presence of the Main Stand. I was on duty for The Sunday Telegraph, covering the game between Everton and Watford.
The away team’s yellow shirts sparkled brightly, emitting optimism. Their players spirited about, full of confidence, attacking Everton, making the stadium groan.
I thought about my walk through Stanley Park 90 minutes before kick-off where supporters protesting at Everton’s stagnation under Bill Kenwright handed out flyers, highlighting the areas where the club had supposedly fallen behind — citing a board reluctant to change.
By contrast, Watford had finished second in the Championship having used four different managers over the course of the season before, making the prospect of the deep unknown seem merry and Everton’s mode of consistency utterly joyless.
In appointing former Valencia, Benfica and Atletico Madrid manager Quique Sanchez Flores (below), Watford were on to their fifth manager in 12 months. That afternoon, he gave six players their debuts. I asked a member of their in-house media team about the mysterious sounding Allan Nyom — where did he come from, what were his skills and which position should we expect him to play?
There was a consensus about his history: Udinese-owned and on a one-year loan, that stretched into a barmy six-year spell of borrowed time at Granada in Spain largely due to the controlling influences of the Pozzo family at both clubs, as well as Watford. It later transpired that Nyom possessed the physique of a box-to-box midfielder but played at right back. Tony Pulis might like to sign him one day.
Odion Ighalo’s second half goal in front of the Park End would have been the winner had Everton not scrapped an equaliser through Arouna Kone. Ighalo started the season as a substitute. At the risk of trying to sound the smartest lad in the class who called it first, I could not figure out why. I leaned over to The Independent’s redoubtable Simon Hart and commented upon his movement being of Premier League standard. Simon might corroborate this. He probably won’t.
Anyway, Ighalo has subsequently started in all 15 of Watford’s fixtures, scoring 10 times. In normal circumstances this would be enough for a great deal of investigation. Yet Ighalo’s achievements have been eclipsed by those of Jamie Vardy, whose goals have sent Leicester City to the summit of English football.
Watford have made it to a mere seventh. If they beat Liverpool at the weekend, they might be fifth at Christmas. Liverpool could be in the bottom half and Chelsea in the relegation zone.
Is this a revolt? The Premier League standings are currently betraying the money arguments. Sheer will to win appears to have eroded the overwhelming effect of finance.
It should be good news for Liverpool because Jürgen Klopp strongly agrees it can happen, although his theory has manifested itself too literally during his time at Anfield so far with Liverpool looking much better against clubs with more money and worse when facing those with less.
If normal service is to be resumed, January should prove to be the season’s most influential month: a time when the biggest clubs can move in the transfer market (although Klopp is currently claiming he does not want to), while also regaining some advantage because of the suspension of the European calendar.
Until mid to late February, schedules will be less consuming at least with a reduction in travel, if not games, depending on progress in domestic cups. Klopp will get to spend more time at Melwood with his players. He has spoken about the importance of this, too.
It cannot be ignored that all four of Klopp’s home league games — yielding a disappointing five points from a possible 12 — have fallen in the aftermath of exertions in the Europa League.
He will see Anfield at a different time of day during Christmas and into New Year, at a different junction in the weekend rather than on a Sunday at 4pm as it has been previously when many present are already thinking about the journey to work the next morning.
Against stronger opponents, there should be a different anticipation and a different mood.
The arrival of leaders Leicester on Boxing Day, followed by home fixtures against Arsenal (on a Wednesday night), Manchester United (Sunday, 2.05pm kick off) and then Stoke City in the second leg of a League Cup semi-final, should inject Anfield with energy. Positive results would create momentum and therefore, a greater expectation.
It is good that Klopp has opened the conversation about atmosphere. It is good that he is attempting to make it better by trying different things. Yet it should not be something he obsesses over.
The dynamic at Anfield has changed in the last three decades. A photograph exists of the Kop in the early 1990s where the first dozen or so rows of terraces were filled with children crammed together squealing in the name of Liverpool. Now, adults of middle age are sat eating hotdogs and the few kids around them are permitted to be distracted by their iPads while the match unfolds in front of them.
Times have changed. Liverpool has changed. Society has changed. The biggest obstacle Klopp faces is society. The quickest and surest way to prevail is if he marriages performances with results, particularly at Anfield.
The 2013-14 season under Brendan Rodgers proved that if Liverpool get on a run, people start to believe. Merseyside becomes febrile.
Before a midweek game against Sunderland, it was as though a religious festival was taking place. Anfield became holy ground when Manchester City visited a few weeks later. The stadium was fuller than it ever has been in the last 20 years an hour before kick off and, hey ho, the vast majority hung around until the death.
It can happen. Under Rodgers and before him, Rafael Benitez, Anfield was at its strongest when Liverpool started games fast: when the play of the team put the opposition on the back foot and Liverpool supporters on the front. It has always been this way and anyone who argues otherwise is rewriting history.
Liverpool’s approach under Klopp has been far too patient. Maybe it is circumstance, a reaction to the fixture list.
Yet in none of the seven home games under Klopp have Liverpool opened up a two-goal lead.
It is up to the manager to find a solution.
And then Anfield can be viewed in its truest light.
Pics: Propaganda-Photo–David Rawcliffe