THERE’S an excellent song on Pacific Street, the first Pale Fountains album. There are, in fairness, many excellent songs on that album; all of them basically, it’s a masterpiece. Mick Head – who the Anfield Wrap interviewed here – is a genius, we hold this truth to be self-evident. This one, though, this one particular song is a trumpet and guitar driven classic called You’ll Start A War.
Guess what I did over the weekend? Started a sodding war.
You should see my Twitter timeline — it’s beautiful. It’s a litany of insult and mockery. And all because of one tweet, which indicated that I might feel a little bit positive about the coming season.
Let’s start with some facts shall we? Then we can do a little bit of conjecture, then, and only then, we’ll have a laugh at the insults.
We filled Wembley Saturday night. I didn’t go — I wasn’t up for the idea of a trip to London to see a friendly, even if it was likely to be the last chance we might get to see Luis Suarez in the flesh. A total of 89,845 people were bothered though — the second highest gate in the new Wembley’s history watched us drag Barcelona around the park while they chased our shadows. 89,845. That’s only 29 people off the ground’s all-time record. Which is held by Muse, so it doesn’t really count.
We filled Wembley for a friendly. Certain other teams can’t fill their own ground for Champions League semi-finals. We’ll come back to Manchester City shortly. Other teams, quite close to home, seemed to have forgotten to tell their fans that they were playing Saturday afternoon. One of the ‘major lols’ on my Twitter timeline was from a Blue who had left the game, entered a pub and found all the Reds there singing about winning the league. He scoffed. Loudly. Ignoring both the fact that his team’s attendance from Saturday could possibly have filled that pub quite comfortably and that his fellow fans have spent all summer telling the world exactly how ‘fucking rich’ they are now. They seem to be having difficulty spending all that petro-cash.
First things first then. You didn’t genuinely expect to beat Barca, did you? Not expect. Hope, maybe, but no more than that. Realistically, in the back of your mind, you were thinking, ‘if we can just stay in the game, not let Luis rip us apart, maybe scrape a win’ but that was the key to it, that was the script. The script was, Luis comes back to haunt us; Messi and Suarez combine to torture our backline and show us how far we have fallen since he left. Luis comes back to put the Jürgen Klopp dream firmly in its place.
Didn’t happen. In a big way. And let’s deal with the ‘it was only a pre-season friendly’ argument, shall we? Yes, it was a pre-season friendly — want to list all the teams that have beaten Barcelona 4-0 in a pre-season friendly? Go on, give it a crack. It must be easy — the whole world’s telling us that it means nothing so it must happen all the time.
Only it doesn’t. End of. We were bloody wonderful. We saw the first full flowering of Jürgen Klopp’s approach to this squad that he’s building, that he’s quite possibly built. We saw it in the shape and the surprise. We saw it in the way that a 4-3-3 became a 4-1-4-1, became a straightforward 4-5-1 when needed. We saw it in the flow, the movement, the pressing.
The Gegenpress. The Gegenpress grows. The fact that all four goals are the result of our desire to close down attackers high in their own half is huge. This is what we expect, this is what Klopp builds on. He builds on the fact that he has players whose natural instincts tally with his own, who will close their man down at the point that they know they are most likely to win back the ball, players who have such positional understanding that they can combine, switch, move, rotate.
We have — and I know I used this phrase last year and the year before but what the hell, it’s more so now than ever before — options.
Roberto Firmino will play both wings and as a lone striker, Divock Origi will pull into areas that nobody expects. Sadio bloody Mane? How good is Sadio bloody Mane? Dropping deep into midfield to start things off, showing that he’s possibly the fastest man that you’ve ever seen on the wing and arriving in the box as a proper number nine at just the point that you need him.
“A £30million player should be finishing one-on-ones,” said one of the lads on Twitter last week. Think Sadio’s shown he can do that. Emphatically. And for a team who have absolutely NO holding midfielders, we had three lads doing exactly that; we had Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and Kevin Stewart showing that they can ‘hold or give but do it at the right time’. We had them breaking up play and starting play with exactly the same touch.
We’ve got artistry; we’ve got Origi’s little flick for Mane to cross into Javier Mascherano’s path, we’ve got Adam Lallana nutmegging the entire Barca back four for Mane to slam that beautiful opener, we’ve got Origi nutmegging the keeper for our third and we’ve got that Lazar Markovic chip for Marko Grujic’s unbelievable ‘there’s one place the keeper can’t get it so I’ll put it there’ header. We’ve got all that. And we’ve got common sense now. Who saw the common sense coming? Ragnar Klavan, a player who seems to love nothing more than ‘just getting rid’ when the moment warrants; is there anybody that isn’t starting him against Arsenal? (I’ll come back to Arsenal soon.)
So, you take the idea that it’s a pre-season friendly and nothing more, and you look at the fact that Barca are about a week behind us in terms of preparation. But look, despite being the best football team on the planet by some distance, being months behind us and add to all that the fact that we know, for an absolute certainty, that their number nine doesn’t understand the concept of ‘friendlies’. You take that and multiply by the fact that nobody expected anything like this and you accept, you HAVE to accept, that this is special, this means something, this — combined with beating all those big teams in big games last season — shows something. It shows what we have.
And, you accept that there were 20 minutes in the first half where it actually looked as though Barca may come back into it and you listen to our manager’s press conference and he notes the moment that Lionel Messi hit the post and he points out that he’s obviously happy but that there are a lot of things that we can learn and there are a lot of things that we can improve. So you — well I, since we’re talking about me here — tweet this:
We've beaten Barca 4-0 and Jurgen's looking for improvements.
And THAT's why we're going to win the league.
— Ian Salmon (@IanRSalmon) August 6, 2016
And Twitter explodes. And keeps exploding for the rest of the evening. I’m standing in The Grapes on Mathew Street, close to midnight on a mate’s stag do, and I’m reading about what a ‘cockwomble’ I am. I’m reading about how bad my hair cut is, how much of a ‘nonce’ I am (nice one, lads, classy ‘bantz’, you tits), how I’m a Rowan Atkinson wannabe (seriously? Can’t think of a moment in my life when that’s been a thing), and how I’m utterly deluded.
There is one lad who manages to come out with a new fish joke though. That’s always nice. Sets me up to answer him and replies with ‘Salmon takes the bait’. Which is pretty impressive on the whole. My favourite is the lad who simply replies with a close up of my eyes from my own profile picture. Didn’t actually understand that one.
They’re the opposition fans. Our own? There’s a couple of our own. They think I’m a fucking embarrassment, that I’m asking for everything that I get, that I’m (here’s the word again) deluded.
They know, I mean KNOW, that we’ll finish no higher than sixth and the season’s going to be shit and I’m just making a show of myself by coming out with this shit. And it feels like there are loads of our own fans who are really this miserable. And it feels like that year where, on another website, I said that we would finish top four and United would be nowhere near us and I was told that I was a disgrace to proper Liverpool fans and I’m all that was wrong with the game. August 2013 that was. You do the maths, you fill in the gaps.
But it wasn’t loads of our fans. It was two lads, going on, and on, and on, and on. One of whom tweeted @theanfieldwrap and asked if I represented the organisation’s account.
No, mate, I represent me, there ISN’T a party line, no matter how much you’d like to believe there is. And I’m not paid by FSG to talk shit. Wish I was, it’d make life so much easier. But it’s just the two of them, going on, and on, and on, and on (that’s at least one extra ‘on’ there, seeing as they wouldn’t stop, all night). Jesus, why bother? Why bother supporting if you can’t believe in things?
Why watch football if it doesn’t fill you with hope. Why follow the Reds if all you feel is the cold grip of frustration in everything we do? If we win something you’ll resent the fact that it happened under FSG, if we don’t you’ll resent us not winning; you’re taking no joy from this. Bet you stood in Anfield Road before the Dortmund game going, ‘waste of flares, they’re going to fucking batter us because we haven’t got any leaders on the pitch’. I’ll come back to you in a minute and I’ll explain exactly why we’re going to win the league. This season. Not sooner, rather than later. Now. Immediately.
But first. The Ev came out. Emojis, taunts, insults, one lad who expressed the idea of him doing something sexual with the Queen. Which is weird, and quite possibly illegal. And nothing to do with us winning the league, but after their 12,000 watched them not spend any money and not beat Espanyol they probably needed to let off some steam.
The Manchester United lads came out. ‘It’s always your fucking year, isn’t it? Book the open top bus now. Why should we bother showing up next season, stick Liverpool’s ribbons on it now, ‘The Salmon of Knowledge’ has spoken.’ Quite liked the ‘Salmon of Knowledge’ bit, might get a t-shirt made up, wear it the game. Sell a few. But they’re happy; they’ve got their show pony manager (who did so well last season) and they’ve got their show pony forward and they’re spending £100m on that lad who set the Euros on fire for France.
The Arsenal were there, too. A reasonable lad called Des was willing to have a sensible conversation then all his mates started shouting at him and everyone started arguing about how shit Wenger is. Which does raise the obvious point; I’ve got mates who call me Arsene to my face, how come nobody traded insults based on that resemblance? It’s an easy target, lads, come on, ‘ave a crack.
There was a Spurs fan but it was a bit half-hearted. Which is very, very Spurs.
The majority though? Manchester City fans. City fans were bloody obsessed with me. ‘Slip’ comments, obviously, a lad who said that they ‘always laugh at us when it goes tits up’ as though there were some ancient rivalry between us and City, as tough they had challenged us and beaten us for decades. Probably just a young lad who knows nothing about the third division and Maine Road and thinks that the Etihad’s soulless, eternally not sold out, husk is heaven indeed. They went on. And on. And further on.
And the question is this: Why are these people arsed about me? Why do they care what I think? I’m not following any of them, I don’t see their tweets, I don’t hear their opinions; if I did, I wouldn’t reply. All this for one simple reason: I’m not interested in them. I couldn’t care less what Manchester United do, couldn’t care less about Manchester City’s desire to build a team of Galacticos while ignoring a porous defence, am not arsed about the Arse, Spurs do not even impinge on my consciousness.
A Spurs fan tweets, ‘we’re going to win the league’ and I carry on looking at pictures of cats. These lads though? Emojis all over the place, floods of tears, utter obsession with Liverpool. Watching out for Liverpool tweets, wondering what we’re saying, waiting to reply. Have you ever waited for a City fan’s opinion? Ever sat waiting to type your barbed witticism in return? No, because you’re not arsed. They are. Because they know. They know what we did to them last season before we’d really started. Home and away. They know that we can have them. They know that we could have them before we improved. And now that we’ve improved, they know it could be worse. They saw the Dortmund game, they saw the Villarreal game. The United fans watched us humiliate them at Anfield, they know we were just warming up. They know that their manager, who is still upset by us taking Rafa Benitez over him, couldn’t cope with us last season while he still had his other job, before he was sacked. They can feel the coming storm.
And this, this is the coming storm:
Jürgen has done what Jürgen intended to do; he’s gone out and bought the lads that would fit the system that he wanted to play. He’s bought the lads that will interchange to make us faster, stronger, more adaptable. He’s made sure that if a lad leaves the pitch then there are at least two lads who can come in and do what that lad was doing (okay, maybe not left back but still…). He knows where we were, where we are, where we’re going and how much more we have to do to get there.
He knows who he can trust. He’s given depth and he’s given alternatives. The two Liverpool FC lads who are deeply unhappy about the world and want to know why I’m spouting such foolishness wanted to know what made me think we could win the league this season when we couldn’t in 13/14 with Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez and my answer went something like this, “Well, apart from the fact that people forget how much shit Gerrard got that season for supposedly being past it, our run of wins was put together by keeping the same 11 or 12 lads on the pitch for a long time. As soon as we needed options, we were buggered. We looked at the bench in those last two or three games and all we saw was Iago Aspas or Victor Moses. We have more. We have more options, we have the same time between games that we had in 13/14 to prepare; we have the focus, we lack the distractions, we can play the full throttle football that Klopp wants. We’re going to win the league.”
City may have strengthened but Klopp’s got six months on Pep, Pep hasn’t seen a Tony Pulis side yet, Pep hasn’t seen Stoke revert to plan A. United have strengthened, it would be hard for them to weaken but it’s going to be a battle between Jose’s ego and the fans’ desire to watch actual football. They didn’t like Van Gaal’s tactics? Wait till they’ve got seven lads on the edge of the box and Zlatan waving in the distance. Klopp has headway on those two, has had time to prepare, to understand what he needs. Jürgen’s greatest joy in life is beating all those teams that he’s not supposed to, he’s about to have a very joyous season.
We’re going to win the league. If you’re a Red and you don’t like that sentence then you’re doing it wrong, if you’re an opposition fan, get used to the idea.
This is our year. So deal with it.