THE general consensus in the build-up to Saturday’s game was that this type of match, playing against shite at home, was the real litmus test for Jürgen’s Mighty Reds.
Never mind going to Arsenal & Chelsea and winning, never mind outplaying Tottenham and having hard lines, never mind whacking the gang of lads who won the league the year before. Playing against bus-parkers at The Anfield would tell us all we needed to know about how we are going to get on this year. After the Burnley game I was cry-arsing with the best of them about us seemingly having no plan for combatting deep immobile defences. Our lack of judgment, poor decision making and Phil Coutinho’s insistence on trying to score by kicking it over the moon left us looking toothless and vulnerable, with huge questions in many minds as to whether games like that would be our downfall. Would we panic again if we didn’t score early? Would we look to force it too much — to try and make it happen instead of just playing?
Easy, wasn’t it. I mean, it wasn’t. It was hard work in that Liverpool worked probably 50% harder than they needed to to get the result, but it was easy wasn’t it? Liverpool were superb in the first half, genuinely superb. The players attitude was exemplary, the movement sensational, the collective patience a joy to behold. Hull could not cope with our shape or intent; could not cope with us moving the ball, constantly shifting the ball, with players always on the overlap or underlap if there is such a thing, always on the half turn, in the shadows, lurking like a baddie in the night. There was a spell of possession, before we scored the first (I think), where we just moved the ball in their final third for ages. No one shot, no one forced it, no one let the pressure reduce, we just kept moving the ball, out to Nathaniel Clyne, back out to James Milner, three or four times, probing, looking for the weakness. Hull, understandably, could not cope.
I was thinking after the game about the Hull dressing room. Lads sat around, in various stages of undress, some cleaning their boots, others on their phone, ignoring Mike Phelan because why wouldn’t you, just passing occasional comments about our lads.
“Sadio Mane is strong, isn’t he lad? Fucking hell.”
“Horrible that, wasn’t it lad? I’m goosed here. Have you got any lemo to get me on to the bus?”
“Fucking hell lad, they aren’t right in the head are they? They were 3-0 up and still fucking legging me all over the show — I had to send it into the Kemlyn just to get a breather. I thought I was going to shit me kecks at one point.”
Now I’m not sure why all of Hull’s players turned into absolute Scousers by full time, perhaps they are easily influenced, but you get the idea. This Liverpool team is not an easy one to face, in fact, I’d go as far as to say that it was probably one of the hardest first halves that their players have ever experienced. Imagine being their full-back, or centre-half, or left-mid, or right-mid, or centre-mid for that matter. It is very difficult to play against a team that keeps the ball and doesn’t give you it back cheaply. Camped in your own half, trying to keep your shape, concentrating, just concentrating, passing men on, concentrating on the new man who has just popped up in your zone, passing him on, concentrating, going with your runner, getting back into shape when you realise it was a decoy, concentrating again, closing your man, getting back into shape, concentrating:
“Oh thank fuck for that they have cocked up and give us it, we might be able to get up the pit…Fucking hell, whats going on, there are four of them who look like they want to eat me, hurtling towards me, I don’t want it, you have it, fuck that lash it into the crowd.”
And then they start again, passing, probing, moving, always fucking moving, hiding. It’s one thing playing against a side that keeps the ball well, but I would imagine playing against one with this desire and ability to get the ball back off you within three seconds of you having it would break the will of a good side, never mind an average one. There is no respite, no chance to organise, to breathe, to lift your head up or even ask the ref how long till the half. There is just relentless pressure, different types of pressure but pressure all the same.
Even on the odd occasion that they managed to get through the initial press by our advanced attacking players, the positional sense of Jordan Henderson, Ragnar Klavan and Joel Matip was perfect. Henderson was primed, prowling, like a prison guard stationed on the fence in an old war film, waiting for someone to make a break for it, made up that he could fly at them and do the equivalent of sticking his gun up their bollocks until they pleaded to be able to go back and tell their mates that it is futile trying that in the future. Henderson is out there, hiding in the tall grass.
If they tried to miss out Henderson by hitting the channel, the two centre halves had it boxed. Klavan looked like the player Martin Skrtel thought he was in his own head. Calm, composed, rock hard, able to win his headers whilst manhandling the forward in a sneaky way so as to not give away a free-kick. Big Joel looked like Sami Hyypia in his pomp — there is no greater compliment. The result of it all was much too much for Hull’s poor lads. Spare a thought for them lads; they will have had to get on a bus with Mike Phelan for at least three hours immediately after 90 minutes of sheer hell — as John Charles Barnes would put it. They also have Mike Phelan as a manager for fuck sake. They have to see Mike Phelan on most days. It must be mad going into work every day and seeing a re-incarnation of Frankenstein’s monster trying to teach you how to play footy better, whilst wearing shorts, countless shorts, showing off his dead grey legs.
It was pretty much the perfect day, wasn’t it? The only cause for concern in the whole game came from a plastic bag that floated onto the pitch. It was the best of bags and the worst of bags. It flirted about, in the periphery of Loris Karius’s vision, somersaulting, back flipping defying gravity like nothing on earth. There was talk of it being a drone bag at one point. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I missed the build-up to the first goal as I was transfixed. It was beautiful. We were convinced it would diddle us mind, fly in Karius’s face as they had a shot or suffocate Klopp in a mad turn of events. Fortunately, after ten minutes of glorious show stopping all action fun, and a couple of nervous glances from our goalie, a hero of a ball boy snaffled it. Somehow he didn’t get a standing ovation; we were on it, though, lad — well in.
You will get a medal at the end of the season.
Maybe we all will. The players seem to think they will be getting some. The manager certainly seems to think so too. It’s written on their faces; you can see it in their eyes, there is a belief, a hunger, an appetite that only comes from having a really good side, a really good dressing room, a really good manager. It’s early days, Reds, and bigger challenges are on the horizon, but I tell you what, it will take a good team to finish above these Reds, of that there is no doubt.
Remember — these want our points. Let’s be angry, Reds. Let’s get into these.