philblundellTHE last time I was in a football ground I walked out before the match had finished in a huff. I was annoyed. An hour earlier Liverpool had walked off the pitch in Basel with a 1-0 half time lead, about 85 per cent of the ground spent half-time singing There She Goes by The La’s and it was the happiest I’d been in a football ground for a long time. Maybe even anywhere.

I don’t need to tell you what happened next in footballing terms, but my mood went downhill in direct correlation with our performance. We were fortunate enough to somehow manage to fit about 15 of us together in the ground and I’ll always think about how good it would have been to have watched Liverpool lift a European trophy with some of my best mates. People I’ve travelled far and wide with, shared laughs, hotel rooms, cars, trains, planes and nearly, in one bizarre drunken incident, bed sheets. Ever had someone walk into your room while you’re asleep, sleepwalking, and try to steal the sheets off your bed while you’re in it? Well I have.

I walked out while the game was still going on knowing that might have been the only chance I’d get. I felt quite down about the whole thing. I walked back to the middle of Basel, sat in a bar and then went to bed far earlier than I would have wished a few hours previous.

It’s evidence of the huge highs and lows that you can get from football. Highs that only success can bring, lows that only failure can bring. The run from February in Augsburg to May in Basel was brilliant — the bang bang bang nature of the Europa League meant you weren’t ever far away from a fun-filled few days away with your mates, or a day out around town before walking into the cauldron that was Anfield. Simply put, it was fucking brilliant.

Compare and contrast this with the majority of the previous seasons. The only one that’s been in the slightest bit comparable, for different reasons, was 2013-14. You’d bounce out of bed on a Sunday morning buzzing for the next game. I say it was slightly comparable, when I actually mean that it was almost identical in a way. Ridiculous highs, huge anticipation, and then a sickening low.

But you know what? I wouldn’t have swapped either for anything. Whether it’s being 4-0 up inside 20 minutes against Arsenal, Philippe Coutinho scoring that away goal at Old Trafford, Steven Gerrard burying a 92nd-minute penalty at Craven Cottage or Dejan Lovren leaping like a salmon at the back post against Dortmund, you can’t not look back and think about how good those times were. The hope, the enjoyment, the memories. Sure, I look back and regret how both seasons ended but it doesn’t detract from the journey and the fun that was had along the way.

As has been said multiple times in this manor, football is about having fun. Whether you’re in the ground with your mates, sat at home with your dad or your kids or your nan, in a bar 3,000 miles from Liverpool with likeminded Reds, it doesn’t matter. Football brings you together.

But it only brings you together when there’s something worth being together for. That’s why this time of year is exciting — absolutely anything is possible. I’m absolutely sick of getting to the end of March and having nothing to look forward to in a footballing form.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, April 14, 2016: Liverpool supporters on the Spion Kop before the UEFA Europa League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg match against Borussia Dortmund at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Take Brendan Rodgers’ first season in 2012-13 for example. Out of the League Cup in October, out of the FA Cup January, out of the Europa League in February. I went to three League games at Anfield after Christmas. There was absolutely nothing to look forward to. It was boring. Glorious failure batters that all over the show, I’m sure you’ll agree. I wasn’t with my mates, I was sat in work on a Saturday afternoon. No fun, no anticipation, no nothing.

I’m an eternal optimist to the point where it winds people up. I’m fine with that though, if I was as miserable as some people are when it comes to football I’d find something else to enjoy. It takes all sorts to make a world but I’ve never really got people who go the match, or sit on the internet and just moan about every last thing, what’s the point?

Anyway, I’m looking forward to this season. I think there are reasons to be cheerful and numerous circumstances that while don’t advantage us, certainly aren’t to be knocked. Leicester will almost certainly experience some form of decline having lost Kante and gained an extra five games before Christmas that will surely knock them out of the routine that yielded the title last year. Chelsea have a new manager and have been quiet in the market, Spurs don’t look to have done much to improve, which they will obviously need to, while I fail to see how Arsenal come top four this season but they probably will because that’s how they roll.

That leaves the Manchester clubs to worry about. It looks like people have forgotten that Manchester United have the Thursday/Sunday Europa League thing people bang on about, and that Daley Blind appears to be playing centre back and a 35-year-old who can’t run is getting games in the middle of the park. They look strong, no doubt, but like everybody else they aren’t perfect and there are holes. There are holes in us; there are holes in all of the teams we’re competing with.

That’s the joy of this season’s Premier League, no one side is anywhere close to perfection. I can’t see this title being wrapped up in March and a side getting 90 points.

If that were to happen, however, you would think Manchester City would be the ones to do it. Aguero, De Bruyne, Sterling, Silva, Sane, and Nolito is some attack. Their defence is still what it was last season and it could take the players a while to adjust to Pep Guardiola, and it could also take Guardiola a while to adjust to not being able to down tools after an hour a lot of the time because he’s 4-0 up against fodder. That just won’t happen here.

It should be a great season. I’m going to go to Arsenal on Sunday thinking we can win the League. You might think it’s ridiculous, I’m not bothered.

They say it’s the hope that kills you. It isn’t. It’s the hope that makes it all worthwhile. You win a trophy, you don’t just talk about the day you won it, you talk about the journey. I only hope Sunday sees the start of a journey we can all talk about for years to come. At least give me something to get out the house for in April, eh, lads?

You’d like to think we’d take advantage of being given the opportunity to play Arsenal at what will surely be their weakest point of the season given the players they’ll have missing. Ok, we could be stronger ourselves but I wouldn’t trade where we are at this moment with them. A winning start would be nice, a point would be completely fine. A defeat? I’d rather not think about it. The optimist in me, that.

How will we line up? I’d go with: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Moreno, Can, Henderson, Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino, Mane, and then give Origi the opportunity to run at them and physically bully them for the last half hour. Let’s see the Red Machine in full effect.

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