AT some point we are going to play a game without something to overcome. At some point, there won’t be a special kind of misfortune, a special kind of diddle waiting to derail these Reds.
It was Tony Pulis and his set-pieces last week, Jose Mourinho and his alehouse footy the week before, bus parking, the lack of an Anfield fortress, questionable goalies, you name it we have had it built up as the reason why these Reds aren’t up to scratch and why the pavement around every corner is made out of banana skins, boiled down and mixed with oil and ice to make the slippiest of slippy slip ups for the Reds to bounce around the corner on to.
So far this season, every challenge put in front of the Reds has, by and large, resulted in Liverpool either overcoming it with a minimum of fuss or taking some time to get to grips with the challenge, before competently and confidently finding a way to win.
So what of Saturday night and Palace away? What was the hype surrounding the match that made us doubt the Reds? I must admit, before kick-off I was as convinced as the next man that Christian Benteke had grown about three feet since he last played for us and had been plugged into the matrix and downloaded a few centre forward packages.
I had convinced myself that Palace were a good team and this was a difficult place to go. I was convinced that the Sunday morning and Monday papers would be lashing out the Halloween horror show headlines for a laugh. I was, in no uncertain terms, very, very nervous.
The game kicks off and it is evident from the first minute that Liverpool are on it. We are hunting in packs and winning the ball back whenever we want it, rotating and recycling it across the pitch, probing and pressing Palace in such a way that it is evident that the game is boxed. We are too good. This is going to be six. The Reds score a great goal and it is a procession. We carry on where we left off straight from the kick-off and this is great.
And then they score and the doubts return and maybe we can’t defend. Maybe we will go into our shell, maybe we will get diddled? For fuck sake Reds, what are you playing at? But the Reds aren’t interested in this negative shit. They just bat on, like nothing has happened and Degsy redeems himself as only Degsy can and this is going to be six, we are too good, the gulf in class is too great.
Liverpool are brilliant, irresistible. Palace look shell shocked, bamboozled grateful for a kick when one comes their way but simultaneously fearful of having the ball because of the onslaught they know it will bring. Liverpool are so comfortable, and dangerous and frankly brilliant and then it is 2-2. Without so much as creating anything it is 2-2. And my head is gone and I’m convinced that something, deeper, something darker is at play.
Maybe it’s because Halloween is around the corner, maybe it’s the influence of years of Catholic teaching growing up but the only explanation making any sense in my head is that Alan Pardew is in cahoots with the Football Devil. Nothing else stacks up.
They have created one chance, a hopeful ball in to our box and have scored two goals. We have created at least seven clear cut chances and are somehow not winning. Pardew has sold the last tiny, black, shrivelled up segment of his soul to the Football Devil, happy to not be ridiculed in this game, to cling onto his job and his uncontrollable, unwarranted ego. My mind races – what has he signed up to here? What will he face now that he is effectively soulless, an empty vessel. What torture awaits him?
At one point I think I have got it; that he will be made to spend the rest of eternity alone, just him, endless Pardew, endless bellendery dressed up as intelligence, in a six by six room. Then I realise that would be his heaven and my head is gone all over again and I am brought back into the room, Derren Brown-esque, by Big Joel Matip’s thunderous header and it’s suddenly half-time and the Reds are winning and I am overcome with a Zen-like calmness.
Say what you want about Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, set them up to fail as often as you want, but they will not be overcome. They aren’t arsed by neat storylines, nonsensical whims, or our nerves, they are in the business of winning football matches; winning and bossing football matches. They have developed an inner steel from nowhere.
The type of in-game setbacks that used to knock us completely out of our stride for the rest of the game barely even register now. These lads just shrug them off and carry on playing. They know how good they are, you see. They are a team with the utmost confidence in the way they play, in each other and in the collective. They aren’t interested in excuses or blame, they are only interested in finding a way. These lads are the real deal, make no mistake. They are going at 2.3 points so far this season – 2.5 points since Burnley, that is title winning form.
Palace threw everything they had at them second half, including a Football Devil-backed Pardew, and the Reds grafted for 20 and then wrapped them up and plonked them into the pile labelled ‘easily beaten and glad that’s over’ with one of the goals of the season. Sadio Mane’s movement, Adam Lallana’s movement, Jordan Henderson’s through ball, Roberto Firmino’s finish, each one better than the last, until the away end is in raptures and the Reds have found a way again.
Leaders are popping up all over the pitch. Henderson is an animal, Matip is quietly only arsed about winning, Degsy the same. Nathaniel Clyne is the best full-back in the country while James Milner (who fancied a day off, so confident was he in the Reds’ skills) could face off death (like in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey), let him pick whatever game he liked and beat him hands down, in his bills, after a night on the brown mix:
“What’s that Death, you want a game of Cluedo now? Alright sound, it was you, over there, with that massive big scythe you have got in your hand you big dopey fucker. Can we give it a rest now?
These lads aren’t messing about and yet these are just the facilitator’s for the best front four in the league. A front four with power, pace, movement, intelligence and work-rate like no other. This is a proper team, somehow greater than the sum of its parts (which is quite the sum, by the way) and it is time that they were given the respect that they deserve.
They don’t need us to worry about them, or be nervous for them or let the press manipulate us into a lack of belief. They aren’t arsed about history, context or coincidence; they are only interested in themselves, their manager and us. Let’s not waste our energy worrying about nonsense, let’s use it to enjoy ourselves and commit to them like they have to us.
When you are feeling anxious about an upcoming game or a former player coming back to bite us or whatever nonsense has been concocted to put us under pressure, just have a think about the poor fuckers who we are playing and how they will be feeling. I can guarantee they will be more scared of us than we are of them.
How do you beat something you can’t catch? How do you hit something that doesn’t stop moving? How do you overcome against a stronger will than yours? If our weakness is conceding goals imagine how good we will be when teams stop scoring with their only shots on target. How do you beat these Reds, with this attitude, skill base and togetherness? The answer is that you don’t.
“You come at the king, you best not miss.”
All the best if you want to try.