BEFORE we begin, and in the interest of full disclosure, fair warning that this piece will attempt to be positive. There will be complimentary things said about Liverpool players, some who played on Sunday and some who did not, some who you may think are crap and some you may like.
Like I said, fair warning, just in case any of you are still steaming mad about Sunday. Which is allowed, because losing to United is shite, any way you may spin it.
Something struck me watching Liverpool in the first half, and even in parts of the second half on Sunday. This Liverpool team is easy to like.
Set aside the bits that annoy you. Forget for a minute the bits that make you want to tear your hair out. And think about this Liverpool team. Go through Sunday’s starting 11 if you like. Or the 11 that started the Arsenal game. A lot of those lads are good at playing football.
The full-backs, you would have to say you would have the two of them. Nathaniel Clyne, as England’s right back, is pretty much as good as you could hope to have. Alberto Moreno, for every time he is weak on back post headers or jittery in his own box, is so easy to like for that mental way he rushes into 50-50 tackles and how dangerous he looks when he runs very fast in that way that he does.
If anyone has found a way not to like Mamadou Sakho, I would love to know about it. There’s just so much about how he plays that endears him to the fans.
The way he flung himself at every corner on Sunday (making all of them bar one), his disarming passing ability, his apparent overall love of being a centre half…every single day of the week I would have Sakho in Liverpool’s defence.
You look at the midfield and there is nothing but likeable sorts. Emre Can, with his trendy hair and general handsomeness and boundless energy, is very easy to like.
Can keeps the ball just long enough to worry you that he’ll have it nicked from him but all of a sudden he has turned into space and is away off up the pitch, looking impossible to stop.
Then there is the captain. Steven Gerrard he is not, but Jordan Henderson has to be the best midfielder at the club right now.
He looks neat and tidy on the ball when he needs to be and puts in his defensive shift when he has to. But you do not really see how clever he is until he plays up near the opposition box and starts those short and sharp one-twos.
Henderson looks better and better the better players he plays with. And if you do not love Lucas Leiva with all of your heart, I am not sure you are capable of feeling emotion at all.
The Brazilian is all guts and grim determination and then all of a sudden full of defence-splitting passes and playmaking guile.
Further forward, all the evidence needed for the likeability of Roberto Firmino is in that second goal against Arsenal.
A player capable of that is always welcome on the pitch at Anfield.
Philippe Coutinho, though he can frustrate with his constant cut inside and blaze it over the bar routine, is so easy to like and love with his clever turns and twists, his passing range, his surprisingly good tackling ability and his propensity to whack an odd one in from 30 yards.
When you look down a Liverpool team sheet this season and take each player individually, you can mostly make a fairly easy case for their inclusion.
You look at each name on its own and you can see the point of that player, you can tell what he will bring.
The problem then, is that all of a sudden you reach the bottom and realise that something is missing. The most important part is missing. Who is the man in this team? Who is its figurehead? Whose team is this?
Without having to go back even as far as the 70s and 80s when Liverpool were the best team in Europe, any proper Reds team always belonged to someone.
For the 10 seasons before this one, this was Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool. He was the man.
In fact, the very best of those sides had more than just Gerrard as the figurehead. There was Robbie Fowler, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez.
Each of them took ownership of the side they played in. They may not have been involved in every part of the game, most especially Torres, but when they interjected to create or score goals to win a game, you knew it was their team.
In the current Liverpool side, there are some very good players. Some players, like Coutinho and Firmino especially, who are excellent 1B options — they are good enough to occasionally step up and make the team their own. Firmino did that against Arsenal.
But there are no 1As in this Liverpool team. No true figurehead. Too many henchmen but no Godfather.
Be it Gerrard or Suarez, Torres or Fowler, if this team had one Man, one capo dei capi, everything looks that much better.
Games like Sunday against United, when it’s there to be won, there to be taken, will be taken and won.
The little flicks Adam Lallana throws into moves around the box will become far more impressive if they become part of a match-winning goal. The jitters of the crowd whenever Liverpool concede a corner will be eased knowing that the figurehead will take his team back up the pitch to reply.
Finding this figurehead to own this team is not easy.
It is why attacking players cost the most money, because of their ability to own and run teams, to be the man.
In the meantime, while that search hopefully goes on, what should be easier is for the fans to take ownership of the team that is there.
It is not perfect, far from it. But there is plenty there to like and plenty we could fall in love with in time