I’ll tell you now and I’ll tell you firmly. I don’t never want to go to Burnley.
What they do there don’t concern me.
Why would anybody make the journey?
(John Cooper Clarke)
Cooper Clarke is a tough crowd. He’s dealt a near fatal blow to a northern market town minding its own business there. An optimist might cling to the double negative in the second line and take it as something of a tribute, but it’s a vain hope.
Fortunately for the townspeople of Burnley – lets call them Burnlegians (like Glaswegians) – JCC never exactly got to be Coldplay or Beyoncé Knowles, and his work is only really enjoyed by a relatively sparse but committed demographic.
I’m one of these few. I’m a big fan of John CC. The self styled bard of Salford. I like him because of his northernness. His funny as fuck northernness that simply doesn’t much translate below the England that lives beyond the Bridgewater canal approx line of latitude.
I’m not a northerner. I was born and raised in the south. I’m not a southerner either. Because of my mother. My mum’s a northerner. She was born about 25 miles from Liverpool. She made me sit with her and watch Victoria Wood and Julie Walters on TV when I was a youth in London. I don’t think we’ve ever done John Cooper Clarke together, but I’m sure she’d like him.
I know Liverpool and Manchester and Leeds and Sheffield are very much of the north of England, but they’re not what comes into my mind if I think about the north. The north for me, is Burnley, and Wigan, and Halifax, and Oldham. Grim heaps really. Grim places that have weathered the storm of post empire and post industrial decline, but shouldn’t – by the natural order of things – really be there anymore. Places where people have lived for a very long time, and that have never really known prosperity or importance. Places where people make do. Get by.
Unlike John Cooper Clarke I do want to go to Burnley. Not for the sights and the sounds, nor to wallow in an orgy of northernness. I want to go to Burnley to watch the mighty reds. Reds so mighty, that they made those pretend big time charlie southern reds Arsenal look like pale pinks, just one short week ago.
Free scoring reds. Attacking reds. The type that when they get a wind in their sails look like they can cross oceans, take all comers. This Liverpool. Klopp’s Liverpool. They gave us due warning on some key occasions last season. The path we’ve travelled with Jürgen has been potholed and we’ve tripped and burned on more than one occasion, but more often we’ve kept our feet. More often we’ve surged and shown that we are a football team that can really hurt other football teams.
Last Sunday in that baking heat at the Emirates, Liverpool meandered for 40 minutes. Arsed about and found ourselves 1-0 down and being thoroughly and disappointingly Arsenal-ed. Then Phil Coutinho lit that red touch paper and we were off and running. Boy were we running. A swarm of black shirted footballing cockroaches, a plague on Arsenal’s best laid plan. We were simply all over them in that third quarter.
I remember watching Alex Ferguson’s nasty Man United reds at the height of their powers in the late 90’s and taking time out from the depression their endless winning brought on, to watch what it was that were actually doing. They were doing something so criminally simple I wondered why it wasn’t being talked about or exposed for what it was. They were throwing huge quantities of men into the oppositions box whenever they’d worked the ball into wide areas. Yeah. I know. But no-one really talked about that being a thing then.
I’d been raised on Liverpool teams who certainly knew how to attack, but they’d also found greatness by mastering the Europeans and using that know-how to batter all challengers domestically too. Liverpool of the 70’s and 80’s controlled the tempo of football matches. Control was the key. They had learned against technically more proficient continental opponents that a moment of carelessness in possession or position could lead to swiftly and perfectly executed counter attack goals by teams more used to a game of patience and precision. Overload going forward and woe betide you if you lost the ball.
Back in England the counter attacking tradition wasn’t ingrained. Ferguson saw that you could flood the box and win a football war through inflicting terror. United were so venomous that opponents grew ever more fearful, sat ever deeper, and facilitated the sieges that Ferguson seemed to so relish. He brought United back to the summit of English football with a simple but ruthless commitment to all out attack.
In Europe this bludgeon wasn’t nearly so effective. Foreign sides, more tactically literate, knew how to punish over commitment to attack. It took Ferguson best part of a decade to work out that crucial balance between patience and attacking aggression. Bringing in Portuguese strategist Carlos Queiroz certainly helped the evolution of modern Manchester United from being a bludgeon to something far more restrained and sophisticated.
Klopp is then to some extent a 90’s Ferguson revivalist. He’s talking about and actually playing those attacking percentages. He’s true to his word. Klopp’s done that simple arithmetic that says if you have six in the box and we have six in the box, on the front foot, we’ve got you. He’s added his own additional seasoning to this in bringing his gegenpress to the English game. The tactic that attempts to make a virtue of a weakness. Kloppo wants it all. He wants to attack you with all his men, and if should dare to take the ball from them, he will relish that too. His pack of wolves will counter press and and turn apparent danger into a renewed threat.
It all sounds really ace doesn’t it. For the quarter of an hour after half time at the Emirates, it looked the part. Later on, as Arsenal clawed two goals back, it seemed like the boys at Klopp’s lab needed to get back in there and work on some refinements. This is nit picking though. Very few teams will win at Arsenal this season. Very few will score twice there. Liverpool veritably feasted on Arsenal with four.
We go to Burnley with the season just a week old but there’s a sense already that Liverpool smell blood in this league. Last game’s star man, Sadio Mane, is a big doubt for this match and that’s a crying shame. It would ordinarily be something of a disaster until you snap to and realise that we mauled Arsenal without needing to significantly call upon either Daniel Sturridge or Divok Origi. Those lads. The ones that averaged not far off a goal per 90 minutes, each, last term. There are now both fully fit and keen to get to have a proper go on Burnley.
Elsewhere the Liverpool manager may be forced, again through a new found surfeit of riches, to make a big decision between his captain Jordan Henderson and his go-to talisman, Emre Can. Last week, Can’s lack of pre-season minutes made Klopp’s mind up for him. This time he may have to genuinely choose. In defence Ragnar Klavan has surely done enough to keep fellow new boy Joel Matip at bay for at least another week, and the harassed Albie Moreno will be praying that James Milner is deemed to not have had enough training to yet return to the first team fold.
What Burnley will do shouldn’t concern us. They are cannon fodder in this league. We may play like a false Liverpool and they may turn into champions Leicester City for the afternoon, but it is unlikely to change the near fact that these are destined to spend their season slogging away to keep relegation related anxieties at bay.
Winning starts to seasons are so important. Especially important for teams like Liverpool, still battling to find an identity. In the Autumn of 2013, Brendan Rodgers Liverpool won a match, and then another match and then a third one. They built a bridgehead of points and confidence from which they were then able to mount an improbable title challenge. A title challenge. That would be a thing. That’s why we’ll wake up Saturday morning with butterflies in our bellies and renewed hope in our hearts. Only one thing is better than opening a season with a win – opening a season with two wins.
The unconcerned reds to beat Burnley’s journeymen:
Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Can, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Coutinho, Firmino; Origi.
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