IT’S that time of year again. Hope springs eternal.
A nine-month journey that starts in summer brilliance, ploughs through the dark, mist, wind and rain, and the bite of winter frost before the onset of spring. The title run-in coincides with the return of lighter nights but will this season’s conclusion bring an intense ray of sunshine to all us Liverpudlians?
All week I kept returning to Wembley and Barcelona. I insist on putting those caveats in the bedside drawer. Friendly, yes. Undercooked Catalans, for sure. But what about those Reds? They took me hugely by surprise. All of them bar Danny Ings, whose head-down, burrowing, retarded Bull Terrier shuttles served only to highlight an abundance of vision and quality elsewhere. (And FC Mainz can fuck off with their 9-0 aggregate friendly tallies. Whose idea was that?).
I’ve put my money where my mouth is. Online betting slips aplenty and investments on the Reds made at 9/1 and 50/1. I’m on board the Liverpool title train because there’s little point being on anything else, other than Sunday’s rattler to Euston and the opener at Arsenal. It’s betting out of hope than real certainty (otherwise I’d have the house on it) but there were signs last weekend that Liverpool might have as good a chance as anyone. (Here, raise your glass to Claudio Ranieri who has recalibrated the mindset of Premier League aims and ambitions).
As I sat drinking a couple of pints of cold Sagres in my favourite Portuguese bar last weekend, I cast aside a few of my misery-arse doubts. I let myself forget misgivings of defensive frailty, of conservative investment; years of inbred failure and/or the heartbreaking title near miss. I allowed myself to dream, without fully nodding off.
Here are five reasons why Liverpool can win a 19th League title next May:
So far, he’s got it all to prove in this country. But, he is something different and contrary to his opening address as Liverpool manager, he’s fucking mad. No, not in the slightest bit normal. Crucially though, we need something different because 27 years of trying — of being normal — hasn’t got us anywhere with this title lark. Who the fuck wants normal anyway?
Klopp wants to do it the ethical way. He wants to do it with young players. He wants to train young lads to within an inch of their last breath. He wants to lose his rag and sometimes the plot. He wants to confront and coalesce at the same time. Ultimately, he wants to win and he has the fans behind him. Whether right or wrong, he receives unquestioned adulation no Liverpool manager has enjoyed since Bill Shankly.
Klopp’s greatest achievement last season was reminding Anfield it needs to fucking wake up; make a bloody difference from the stands and be a key player — far more than a clichéd 12th man, a fuming old fart on day release from the missus, or a silent banter biff in a Liverpool fat-suit. If Liverpool get off to a good start and top the table at any point in the autumn; momentum behind Klopp will carry Liverpool to the title.
Fusion of old and new
Back to Wembley and that dressing down of Barcelona. Liverpool exhibited frightening pace. Sadio Mane excited, while Gigi Wijnaldum ticked over, purring occasionally. Ragnar Klavan surprised and assured, while Marko Grujic scored and celebrated outrageously. The new boys brought zest and sparkle, and baggage so light it might have been freshly nicked from the Harrods travel section.
Despite the claims from many fans that the manager was working with Brendan Rodgers dullards last season, Klopp took a different view. The first-choice lads from last year all remain.
Last Saturday, Jordan Henderson looked a new man — free of pain. Adam Lallana was imperious from deep, Roberto Firmino buzzed and Phil Coutinho jinked and glided as per without having to do it all on his own.
Divock Origi — if he continues his exponential development — could have the transfer committee out on the Anfield pitch en masse, mouthing a collective “fuck you” to the crowd on next May’s title lap of honour. I can just imagine Ian Ayre — bollocko except for a Premier League medal — carousing in front of The Kop while those faceless wool, ex-Manchester City scouts are singing “Champi-ornay, Champiornay, or -wey, or-wey, or-wey”. Meanwhile, Mike Gordon opens a new tab on his golden spreadsheet to detail the cost of Tom Werner’s title-celebration incontinence pants.
In defence against Barca, Dejan Lovren was determined, focused and, on the evidence of a couple of goal-saving lunges, has spent the summer practising in Jamie Carragher’s back garden. Nathaniel Clyne, tattooed with the words “right-back” between his eyebrows, is still a model of solidity. Even Simon Mignolet, fresh of reprieve, defied all the chapters in the goalie-coaching manual to keep a clean sheet.
The Ming, for whom I have great affection, such is the loathing for him from the Dickhead Branch of the International Supporters Club, has already his reached his nadir. I’d laugh my cock off if he kept the good-looking German (he of the weak hand) out of the side.
On a serious note, it’s a strong, rounded squad. There are options everywhere. Klopp’s additions might have an alchemistic effect on the residents. And, Kev Stewart is a Rolls-Royce of a defensive midfielder. I’m not even messing.
No European football
This is a massive advantage whichever way you look at it. Last season’s League woes were blamed on too many games, no time on the training ground, no recovery time and the resultant injury crises.
This time around Liverpool players will play football matches once a week. Klopp can do all the training and coaching he needs and wants. If siege mentalities are his thing, he will have all the time in the world at Melwood to create something worthy of The Alamo.
OK, so Chelsea will enjoy the same privilege, but they’re shit.
Quirk and coincidence
I’m sure John Henry would struggle to woo Linda Pizutti into a night of passion by mentioning collapsed sewers. But he knows not of the history of FSG’s “storied club”.
Three away games on the bounce. A campaign opener at Arsenal. A home ground not ready for the start of the season. For 2016 read 1987, when we ended up Champions after the old Victorian Kop was closed to the newly-signed talents of Barnes and Beardsley. Perhaps the tardy opening of the new Main Stand will do us a favour, as the Reds set the world alight on enemy turf before returning home to a heroes’ welcome in September.
Stand aside, JWH…
The Law of friggin’ averages
If you told me, when I stood outside the Crow’s Nest pub in Crosby on a sunny Saturday evening in May 1990 around 6.30pm — nursing two pints of lager in quiet “celebration” of our 18th League Championship — that I’d still be waiting to see the next one 26 years on, I’d have politely told you to fuck off.
Call me deluded all you want, Bluenoses — Liverpool win it this time, bathed in May sunshine.
See you at the Emirates.
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