Where the dogs bark and the cats meow
I will take you there
I will show you how
– D. St. Hubbins, Spinal Tap 1981
STONEHENGE is on the way to Southampton. Just outside Salisbury. It takes forever to get from Liverpool to Southampton so you look for something (anything) to break the monotony of thousand-yard staring onto the fractured white-lined lanes and average speed advice.
Word is that the Henge is very very old. Older than the pyramids. There may even have been mammoths still roaming those downs back then. Men and women were on barely more than grunting terms yet in the infinite wisdom of early civilised man, he decided to haul some massive rocks hundreds of miles from ‘A’ until they got all the way to ‘B’.
It’s not likely they had even visited ‘B’ before. Why they decided upon this venture remains a timeless mystery. There’s no logical explanation for it other than sheer stupidity. The end product isn’t even Easter Island-level interesting.
Now the people charge you £8 to look at the big rocks. Look but don’t touch, or even come close to smelling. They are there only to be pointed at. You can also do all of this from the roadside without paying the eight notes.
It would have been quite cool if Southampton’s old shack, The Dell, had been moved to Stonehenge rather than the less inspiring St Mary’s dockland area of the town. It would have provided a dramatic gateway for match goers. Hippies and hoolies could have met in the parkland around the big stones, swapping stories of pilgrimages and sharing tins of cider.
Going to Southampton-land from hundreds of miles away in Liverpool, you are forced to reflect and draw parallels between your own vain folly of a journey and that taken upon by 3,000-year-old man. Like those hardy souls who ventured hundreds of miles for relatively minor purpose or reward, so we too are destined to question the logic of our quest.
The costs mount, the time it takes is forever, and the game itself offers more prospect of being a grind than a joyous exhibition. If results don’t fall favourably elsewhere, anything achieved on the pitch is likely in vain. The haul is a long one, the prizes are small.
Yet we keep on going. When there seems little reason left to do so. You build hope in your heart. I do maths. I create scenarios in my head, strategies that test the imagination. IF Arsenal lose. IF Manchester city lose. IF we win. IF games games in hand are worth two in the bush.
By the time I’m there, and I smell the pies, and the grass and the piss, and the farts that smell of pies, I’m ready to believe that everything is possible.
So many pies, so much pie/shit combo pollution, so many dreamers.
Perhaps the game at Southampton will be the Reds’ letter day. The one where this three points, more than any other three points, come to be seen as all defining. The run in. The charge. Ten games to go. It starts here.
Southampton’s journey, since long ago late last autumn when we thrashed them 6-1 under the stars, has been an interesting one.
Their admirable manager — medium-sized Ron Koeman — has achieved something that is the hallmark of enduringly trustworthy managers. He treats those defeat/victory imposters equally. He was not phased by a near 10-match non-winning sequence. He remained calm and rebuilt from the back.
The Saints’ three centre half system has been the platform upon which they have rebuilt from. Virgil van Dijk and Jose Fonte look a formidable shield. Graziano Pelle’s strength gives them an out ball. They are no longer there to be casually had off.
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Jürgen Klopp will see two possible solutions to Southampton’s riddle. One would be to note that Koeman’s 3-5-2 was tailored most to dealing with twin striker formations. Koeman saw his rear three as good enough to contain most twos. This then left him with five or six lads in midfield to outnumber and dominate with.
The logical response therefore is to just let one striker occupy those three lads at the back, and to use full backs to augment five in midfield. To play Southampton at their own overloading game.
Klopp will weigh this approach against a temptation to frighten Southampton once more with the two-striker system that so terrorised them last time the teams met at St Mary’s. Between them, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi scored five of Liverpool’s six that day. They will fancy this one again.
The Reds come into this one off the back of a confidence boosting two-leg triumph over Manchester United. Legs will be tired from Thursday’s exertions but heads and hearts will be buzzing and craving to go again.
Klopp will be without Roberto Firmino who has picked up a hamstring injury and James Milner, who is suspended after his red card at Crystal Palace. Those two aside, expect Klopp, on balanced reflection, to simply pick his strongest available team — nine of the 11 that have seen off United and who will have time to recover next week from this last extra exertion.
If these proud boys can still find it in them to press and punch one more time, and if Klopp measures his timings and choices of substitutions to perfection, then Liverpool should have too much even for Koeman’s improved Southampton.
Let’s bloody well hope so, Reds. It’s a long wretched journey home if you’ve got nothing to sing about.
Makes you wonder how those druids felt once they’d delivered their load, 3,000 years back. Did they consider that a win, and begin their 3,000-mile yomp back to Wales with a skip in their bare-footed step or were they left wondering what the point of anything was, and whether or not they had allowed themselves to be blagged again?
We are destined to repeat our mistakes.
The team to blow the Saints back to the Stone Age: Mignolet; Flanagan, Lovren, Sakho, Clyne; Can, Henderson; Lallana, Coutinho, Sturridge; Origi.
Kick off: Sunday, 1.30pm.
Last season: Southampton 0 Liverpool 2.
Referee: Roger East
Odds: Southampton: 17-10 Liverpool: 12-5 Draw: 2-1