Football - FA Premier League - Newcastle United FC v Liverpool FC

HOW bright the sky looks. How green the grass. Smell that warming spring air.

I think I might go outside and sit on my stoop and drink some lemonade.

The Reds are coming up the hill boys. Like a threshing machine sything through the corn fields of the premier league. Trampling all that Europe has to offer.

Some seasons creep up on you, some rise and fall, some fade before the fall. Some though are just a bit schizophrenic. This one. It’s popped, crackled and fizzed. Its spluttered and farted. Like a mad old classic motor.

Eventually though, it’s caught. It’s begun to roar. And what a sight it now is. This season. A red Jaguar cutting a graceful swathe through the countryside.

Yeah, by next Friday morning she may not look so pretty. We could be anti climaxing all over the show. We could be wrecked on the beaches of Villareal. Beaten and blinking into a fast disappearing horizon.

Today though we are unbowed. Today we are resplendent.
Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Everton FC

This Liverpool team is a winning Liverpool team. 4 nil derby winners. 3 wins on the spin. 6 wins in the last 8 league matches. This Liverpool team has already reached one cup final this season and stands on the cusp of another. It is outscoring all the other teams in the division this calendar year.

Games like this Newcastle one are something of a rare treat. There’s not a whole lot riding on it from our end, but we’re in such fine fettle that every time the Reds play there’s gonna be a show. It’s one to be eagerly anticipated without need for accompanying anxiety.

For Newcastle it’s a very different occasion. They are being marched to the gallows and if they don’t wrestle from their shackles and make a bolt for it now, they’re doomed. They have 4 matches and will need about 7 or 8 points to avoid relegation. If they collect nothing at Anfield they are left with little but prayer.

They’ve bussed our Rafa in to work a miracle. He can do that. He’s rolling up his sleeves, he’s putting his big pens in his top pocket, he’s giving his gigs a wipe. He’s ready. He knows exactly what to do. He’s Rafa Benitez – that’s how it works.

Mike Ashley has done very little right by Newcastle United FC during his tenure, but bringing in Rafael Benitez was a genuinely astute piece of work. Rafa is far too good for them where they are now, but his stock is in a state of flux (it has been for 7 years) and he must wake at times in the night and wonder how all this has worked out the way it has.

A few weeks ago he was manager of Real Madrid. That’s REAL MADRID. Now he’s the manager of Championship fodder elect, Newcastle United. Since February 2006 their managers have been Glenn Roeder, Nigel Pearson, Sam Allardyce, the second Kevin Keegan reign, Chris Hughton, Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer, Alan Pardew, John Carver and Steve McClaren. They never dreamed they’d get RAFAEL BENITEZ.

Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Newcastle United FC

These are crazy times – Leicester are top you know – and nothing should really surprise us any more. It would’ve been great if Joe ‘fuck off’ Kinnear was still Director of Football at Newcastle. Just for the shit and giggles.

Rafa and Joe. Joe and Rafa. Benitez and Kinnear. Two cops following different paths.

Rafa, he’s cool, calm and collected. He knows what he wants.

Joe. He’s a fucking arsehole. A real moron. He hasn’t got a scooby doo.

When they got together, it was moider.

European Football - UEFA Europa League - Round of 32 - 1st Leg - Liverpool FC v AFC Unirea Urziceni

It’ll be strange having Rafa back in town this weekend. Always is when the ex knocks round.

Hi Rafa. How you keeping? Good. Good. Yeah. Yeah, we’re fine. Klopp’s nice. He’s good for us. We’re really happy. You happy? That’s good. Yeah, we still think about you Rafa. Of course we do. Those were great times.

We walk away. He walks away. This is love, this is football, this is battle and you know Rafa won’t give us one thought when it’s business time. He was always like that. That’s his thing. He’s at his downright sexiest when he’s got his blinkers on. Signs are he’s getting a response from this Newcastle mob who have, until now, broadly disgraced their shirts. There’s some good names in that squad. Good names playing for a big club. He’ll make them prove it. He’ll make them deserve it.

A good win over Swansea and a good draw with Manchester City have seen Rafa’s Geordies build a bridge head in their season. A point at Anfield would be a massive point. Rafa loves a point. Like Gerard Houllier, he’s of the old Italian school of management that says you start every game with a point already, so whatever you do, don’t throw it away.

Rafa will come for his point, but be ready to take more. He will prepare on this basis.

His opposite number, Jurgen, is only about the wins. Longer term Klopp watchers may testify differently but in his 9 months at Liverpool I’ve yet to see any evidence that he ever just ‘takes a point’. At Dortmund a few weeks ago, and at home to the country’s form team Spurs, there were points to be taken. Games to be seen out. Witnesses to those two games would have to have observed that the Liverpool team were always trying to win the football matches in question.

Having said all of this, Kloppo is not stupido. He wants to beat Villareal next Thursday to reach the Europa League final more than he needs to beat Rafa’s Newcastle in a match that means more to them than us. He is also in a rhythm of getting the best out of his players, and that has come about because he is broadly allowing them all 7 days rest between matches.

If he maintains this routine, then the side he matches up against Rafa’s will be the B plus side. The lads who in recent weeks convincingly despatched Stoke at home and Bournemouth away. The secret each time, despite the abundance of rookies and reserves on view, was having genuine fire power up top. Here-in lies a new poser for Klopp.

Football - FA Premier League - Norwich City FC v Liverpool FC

Rotating the now injured Origi and Daniel Sturridge is no longer an option. Does the manager look to hone Sturridge’s growing sharpness or does he wrap him in cotton wool, knowing that striker has to start in the Europa games?

There’s a case for Jurgen viewing the 5 day gap between this weekend’s fixture and next Thursday’s against Villareal as providing sufficient rest and recuperation time, such that the need to make wholesale changes is negated. It may lead to the selection of a hybrid side – The A/Bs.

My hunch, for what it’s worth, is that he’ll largely go with the team that looked so impressive at Bournemouth last week. Even as far as picking understudy keeper Danny Ward again. I’d also expect at least two from Joe Allen, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge to be on the pitch from the beginning.

It may not be the biggest game in our history, but we want to win this. Winning begats winning. Klopp wins. We all win.

Coming up the hill. Coming down the road. Driving the red Jaguar. The Reds go marching on. On. On.

The anticipated marching Reds then:

Mignolet; Randall, Skrtel, Toure, Moreno; Allen, Stewart; Ibe, Firmino, Ojo; Sturridge.