ANFIELD is bigger now. Lopsided, but in a good way. Like a protective friendly giant with its arms round The Kop and the Anny Road. Like a minecraft mollusc, spiralling geometrically towards the heavens.
Did you like that? I’m very pleased with it. I’d do a smug emoji here if I could. I’m very pleased with this big new fuck off stand too.
First Anfield of the autumn is always a feast day to be anticipated, but the ingredients and spices added to this occasion have me fair slavering.
The new behemoth of a main stand is the de facto star attraction. But what about the actual mighty Reds? They’ve been tethered and held back from us for the season’s opening month. It’s unnatural, if not entirely unprecedented.
This isn’t 1987, and Georginio Wijnaldum and Sadio Mane ain’t Peter Beardsley and John Barnes, but we are a touch excited and anxious to see what these effervescent new Reds have planned for us. Mane looks a man. He’s already scything, thrusting and threshing through those average Premier League defences. Just three games in and we’re heaping expectation on top of anticipation, on top of unreasonable pressure. Anfield expects, Sadio. Deliver and the new roof will come off.
We expect victory. Nothing less. We know fate so often denies that which we expect, but it will never rob us of that expectation. Of that conviction that we are good enough to deliver. To deliver points. To deliver trophies. To fulfil our destiny. Our terribly heavy, back breaking, generation burdening, cunt of a destiny.
I love/hate that tension at Anfield. It was evident to me from my very first time in the stadium. The crowd demanding a Liverpool goal. The people’s will. That aching. That agonising restless, twitching, aching to see Liverpool take a lead. Then, one nil. To the Reds. At Anfield. No greater feeling.
With the burden comes the release. The release is what makes our crowd what it is. It knows how to have a party. It senses when the Reds are in for the kill. It makes special occasions magical ones.
I’m saying, let’s not bemoan our impatience. Its native. Its part of who we are. No pain. No gain.
Sure we don’t want the old ‘moan stand’ to morph into the all new ‘mega-moan stand’, but let’s embrace all our people, with all our flaws, and remember that the cocktail that is Anfield, poison poses and existential dread and all, is what makes it what it is.
Leicester are the guests at this Anfield party. They wouldn’t have been my first choice, but they may serve their purpose. They finally got a win last week, but they remain on a cusp of anxiety and it is our remit to expose that insecurity. They will be in the midst of an identity crisis that was destined to burden them from the moment they improbably lifted that Premier League title back in May. When the sound of the crowd had subsided, the champagne bottles all been vacated, and the last of the backs slapped, those Leicester lads must have fallen silent with each other, for one communal moment. In that moment the full implication of what they had achieved will have dawned on them. A rush to their senses.
Have you seen the end of the film ‘The Graduate’, with Dustin Hoffman? From the 60s? Yeah, you’ve seen it. It’s brilliant. Should be on everyone’s ‘Top 10 movies’ register.
If you’ve seen it, do you recall the final scene? The final moments of the final scene? Dustin’s character Ben has just done this mad wild romantic thing by interrupting the wedding of his true love just as she was about to become betrothed to some schmuck. The boy had left it late, but finally he comes through for his girl. She’s made up that he’s done this. The pair of them leg it out of the church leaving a congregation gawping in shock. If you saw this scene in the pictures you’d have been on your feet clapping frantically, at this point. That camp ‘Bravo! Bravo!’, hands almost in front of your face, whilst you stand up, kind of clapping.
Then, after all that romantically charged drama, the coolest thing happens. The camera cuts to Ben/Dustin and his love (Katharine Ross) sitting on the back of a bus. Him dishevelled, her still in her bride’s get up. Ordinary passengers all around them. They look at each and smile nervously, then quickly look away, and then straight ahead of themselves. Thousand yard stares. They both have the perfect ‘what…the fuck…have we just done’ face, down to perfection. They both look like Leicester — the town, the players, the manager — looked about one hour 15 minutes after the final whistle of the final game of last season.
August 13th — the first day of this new season — was the first day of the rest of Leicester City’s lives. They started it by losing at Hull. Then they drew with Arsenal, and last week they got their win. It will have served to have given them a bridgehead in their own sanity. They will arrive that bit calmer, but still vulnerable.
Liverpool FC? We’re always a psychological mess. We don’t have to worry about new demons. Plenty of old ones always wafting and buzzing around our heads.
I fancy us. Yes I do. I think in Mane and Roberto Firmino we have two lads who are inclined to playing without fear. They could be joined this weekend by Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho. At least one of them at any rate. They are really good and will relish the new Anfield stage. Jürgen Klopp may choose to rest Phil Coutinho until later in the game. We’ll see.
Adam Lallana looked a man who had a weight lifted as he clenched his teeth and then primally screamed with delight at his first England goal last week. Kloppo wouldn’t dream of dropping you now Adam. He loves the bones off you anyway.
Klopp has said Emre Can isn’t fit yet, so expect to see Lallana supported in midfield by Jordan Henderson, as the anchor, and new lad Wijnaldum. Gini will be up for this one. He got himself a rep at Newcastle as a player who only scored in home games. Not fucking surprising, Gini would say. Did you see the state of Newcastle away from home last season? Poor Gini will have spent all of those games just legging it back towards his own goal.
At the back we would all love to see Loris Karius start in goals ahead of Simon the Ming, but he’s probably another week away from full fitness. Injury to Ragnar Klavan ensures a start for Joel Matip alongside the entirely rehabilitated, and now — touch wood — reliable, Dejan Lovren.
The Reds nearly picking themselves, there. Leicester still trying to find themselves, there. Anfield bigger, better, bolder. Anfield wants it. We want it.
The needy Reds 11 to see off Leicester: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Mane, Firmino, Sturridge.
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