BLOODY football, eh? Makes complete mugs of us most of the time.
Not to be complaining after the result at Stoke, but this was supposed to be about the lack of excitement generated by Liverpool over the course of the season so far. Then, at the Britannia, that happened. That rather good, and sometimes brilliant performance pulled from adversity happened.
Don’t get me wrong, one game in the League Cup does not fix all the Reds’ woes and the point still stands to be made, by and large. But it feels a little mealy mouthed to give out about Liverpool after the somewhat surprising turnaround following the West Ham debacle.
Sky Sports ran an ad last week to promote the first football of the New Year. The package had a little summary of the highlights from 2015 — its most exciting and stand-out moments.
There was Jamie Vardy breaking the Premier League record for goals in consecutive games. There was Eddie Howe celebrating Bournemouth beating Chelsea. The ad tips along highlighting the best players and matches from the season so far until it comes to a familiar bearded figure, arms folded on the touchline.
The commentary on the clip is from Jürgen Klopp’s first game in charge, talking about the start of the German’s journey with Liverpool. In an ad featuring the most exciting on pitch moments from the season, Liverpool’s sole contribution was the unveiling of a new manager.
Jurgen Klopp becoming Liverpool manager was incredibly exciting. It still is, quite frankly.
He’s a loon — a wonderful madman who shouts and roars and smiles and hugs — and makes watching, listening to and reading about press conferences not just bearable, but fun.
It is an exciting thing that he is managing Liverpool Football Club. But it should absolutely not be the most exciting thing that has happened to the club this season. That cannot be allowed to be true.
But subtract the three games that everyone talks about; Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton, and there is not a lot else that really excites from this season, is there?
Watching the Reds at the start of the season was a bit of a worry. It had not been fun for a while. It felt inevitable that it would all lead to a change of manager and so it proved.
So in came Klopp and everything became fun again. Everyone got swept up in the high of recruiting a world-class manager and did not come down again for a few months.
Klopp made everything seem so exciting that things probably dropped through the cracks, warning signs that the worry was returning to Anfield. But things were still exciting enough for us not to notice. Just lately, however, right when things were supposed to get really exciting, the worry has set in again. Drawing with West Brom, losing to Newcastle, Watford and West Ham. Nothing exciting about that.
Most disheartening of all was that it appeared to be the same game played over and over on a loop, Watford and West Ham especially. An early goal conceded, the wind knocked out of the team and still another 70-odd minutes of nail-chewing and hair pulling to get through without ever really building up a head of steam that looked like resulting in a goal.
No excitement, no real drive or sustained attacks or proper goes at testing the goalkeeper.
For a few games, it became hard to see what a goal would look like, how it would happen.
Even in the wins against Leicester and Sunderland, once the single goals were scored it was hard to see another coming the same way, or the complete opposite way, or in any way at all.
The more often it happened, the more we knew going into the games that this was going to be how it would look. Was this Liverpool, regardless of manager? It became a worry before a ball was even nudged forward from the half-way line.
Support never wavered. Not that. Nor belief. But genuine excitement definitely dipped for a few games. It was hard to go to the well again for the same players over and over with nothing in return. It was hard to look back to Chelsea and Southampton and City to get excited about Philippe Coutinho, Divock Origi and Roberto Firmino when Coutinho kept cutting inside to blast a ball over the bar, Origi kept running down blind alleys and Firmino seemed to stop existing for 90 minutes every weekend.
The lack of excitement was underlined further by what has been going on around Liverpool. The true state is felt in relative terms. And, relative to the sides around them in the league, the Reds have been pretty boring.
It seems like nearly every team in the top half are having the season of their lives. Leicester City are doing their thing at the top of the league, Arsenal look like they finally might be good enough to win the league (again), Spurs are turning into the least Spurs side in England, Watford have two of the most in-form players in the league, Crystal Palace have Yohan Cabaye and a few tasty wingers, Everton have Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu, West Ham seemingly keep beating every good team they come up against and Stoke have a front three that used to play for Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.
None of these sides are winning every game but they are exciting their fans. Their supporters go to games looking forward to seeing something from their team, be it Lukaku bullying another centre half or Vardy finishing off a counter attack. They can enthuse about, and be enthused by, their football team. For too many weeks this season, the Reds have not afforded us that opportunity.
That is why Tuesday night was so welcome. It was not a perfect performance. It was not 6-1, 4-1 or even 3-1. It was 1-0 in the first leg of a League Cup semi-final. It does not mean that Liverpool will win the league, or even the League Cup.
But it was exciting. The first half especially.
You could get excited about Adam Lallana having an actual shot or Coutinho and Firmino remembering that they were both really good at this football thing and that they should pass to each other quite a lot.
You could get excited about how Emre Can burst forward from midfield or how Jordon Ibe was a constant, massive pain in the arse to every Stoke player who came near him. After weeks of not being able to see one way that a goal could be scored, suddenly you could see three or four.
Winning games is exciting, of course it is. But it’s not just the Reds winning every game that can excite us. We need reason to sing and laugh and jump and shout and roar and go absolutely mental for the team. We need games like City and Chelsea and Southampton.
We need games like Stoke. Effort, passion and commitment allied to skill, goals and talent. It’s exciting. And we need excitement.
Pics: Propaganda-Photo–David Rawcliffe