YET another international break and heightened irritation at not seeing the Mighty Reds light up our weekend.
Of course, we’ve been here before – being the third occasion already this season – but in the wake of Liverpool’s dazzling, free-scoring shows since the last hiatus, a frustration for us all the more acute. The only upside is the break it gives our livers in the hope we’re all still around in May.
The Reds’ form of late has naturally drawn comparisons with the excitement accompanying the title surge of 2014. Then, a stunning run of 12 consecutive wins in the spring and goals galore took us to the brink of the title. Everyone literally went to town, if only metaphorically on the back of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling.
But Brendan Rodgers’ team of two years ago took a while to build up a consistent head of attacking steam, even if three solid 1-0 wins gave the season early momentum. Autumn and early winter brought reality checks in the form of a home defeat to Southampton, and a limp display at Arsenal followed by surrender at Hull. After Christmas, Brenno’s lads tore up the league in devastating fashion.
This time the thrills and anticipation have come much earlier. Eleven games in and there’s the same level of expectation. This time though, I sense there will be no broken hearts.
In truth, the current desire to see this Liverpool team reminds more of the start to the classic 1987/8 season when Kenny Dalglish’s stylists had queues for the Kop snaking down Back Rockfield and Walton Breck Roads hours before kick-off. God knows what we did without our mobile phones during that wait. Oh, hang on, we talked to each other.
All ticket crowds means that Anfield fills up much closer to kick-off but the longing to see Jürgen Klopp’s latest Reds incarnation matches the hunger for John Barnes and Peter Beardsley back in the day.
The heralded Dalglish vintage; a team built in his own creative, visionary image routinely dismissed opponents with a style of play which had the nation purring.
For the first in my generation Liverpool were noted for flair rather than a mechanical, if brilliant efficiency which saw a succession of Reds’ outfits fall in with the “Red Machine “ moniker; a reference to the military force and precision of the brutal Soviet army.
There are parallels in the evolution of Dalglish’s great Liverpool team and this season’s fabulous ambassadors. Red is still red at home, but on the road battleship grey has given way to the toxicity of Liverpool’s thunder.
Liverpool under Dalglish, defending the title in 1986/7, flattered to deceive and stumbled to a second-place finish behind champions Everton. Had Ian Rush not notched 30 league goals in his farewell season the Reds would have struggled to finish runners-up. At times it felt like a one-man team as the legs of the 1986 double winners began to fall off; in the unfortunate Jim Beglin’s case quite literally after a horror tackle by Everton’s Gary Stevens.
Dalglish recognised not just the need to restore the goals of Rush but to instil a broader attacking threat. John Aldridge was recruited early in the spring of 1986 to be a nominal replacement for Rush but took time to settle. His lookalike short, dark crop and moustache betrayed a clumsier simulation of Rush’s flawless all-round game, clinical control and finishing. When the season ended, supporters were concerned the Reds had been forced to accept a pale imitation of the departing hero.
Kenny though had other ideas. The hiring during the summer of Peter Beardsley was in part to address his own fall to the ravages of old Father Time. However, the signing of John Barnes was the game-changer, offering Liverpool rare pace, grace, flair and width.
Once the new season began, with Liverpool – like this year – waiting weeks to perform under the watch of their own supporters due to an unfit ground, a new attacking trident was unleashed in front of an expectant Kop.
By early autumn, despite lagging two games behind everyone else, the Reds, fired by Barnes’ magic, and a revitalised Aldridge feasting on chances and penalties galore, burst to the top. When Beardsley later settled into his best form; performing a series of mesmeric dribbles that sent half the ground for the Echo, the game was up for the mere mortals of old Division One.
Liverpool were champions elect practically by the time the clocks went back and no mistake.
For Barnes, Beardsley and Aldridge now read Sadio Mane, Phil Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. Anyone who has witnessed, particularly in the flesh, the speed, movement and downright class of this brilliant new front three cannot deny such obvious scope for comparison.
You’ve got Firmino darting around like Zorro – and sometimes he plays as though on horseback; the lightning Mane confusing everyone by starting wide but scoring central, and Coutinho, painting beautiful football pictures like a prolific artist on the banks of the Seine. Our Phil raises the bar and the roof each week with a succession of glorious through balls and screamers.
What a gang of lads they are! No wonder we’re pining for them while England — our own boys notwithstanding — oaf around against Scotland.
Coutinho of course has just carried on where he left off, curling an overnight dagger into the heart of Eva Peron. I saw Lionel Messi make a mental note to either sign for us or get our Phil versed in Catalan before it’s too late. On a cheerier note, Coutinho’s latest thing of beauty won’t hurt to remind Sergio Aguero what he and Manchester City and the rest are up against in the weeks to come. That’s if he and they don’t already know.
The parallels with Kenny’s greats of ‘88 don’t end there. Dalglish, unrestricted by transfer windows, plunged in late for Ray Houghton from Oxford and by late autumn, the attacking midfielder’s probing was extra augmentation for an already devastating front three. For Houghton’s perpetual motion, you could now trade Adam Lallana’s limitless guile and intelligent pressing as the auxiliary Reds attacker.
While Dalglish’s lads lined up on the team sheet in a fashionable 4-4-2, no-one really talked systems. We were too busy singing the particularly un-cool for school, “Ole Ole Ole, we are the champs” and watching the goals fly in.
Besides, Barnes would pop up through the middle (a la Mane) and Beardsley would often drop deep into midfield to pick up just like Firmino, albeit with significantly fewer teeth.
Only Aldridge was an out and out forward but the formation could just as easily be recognised as 4-3-3. More accurately, with the talents of the peerless Alan Hansen at the back offering all the poise of Joel Matip, and technicians Ronnie Whelan and Steve McMahon a latter day version of Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson, more accurate links later emerged with the Dutch Masters’ Total Football of the 1970s.
The impressively solid Nathaniel Clyne has some way to go to compare with Steve Nicol but you get the gist. Get him on the crisps, Jürgen.
Football luminaries from Tom Finney to a pre-corruption Michel Platini waxed lyrical over a team actually ahead of its time.
If any opposition fans are reading this and you’re not scared enough already, consider this. The maestros of ‘88 were rightly considered Liverpool’s most graceful side, with the aforementioned greats Barnes and Beardsley to the fore.
But this Liverpool gang, now pushing favouritism for this years’ title, also have echoes of the greatest Reds “team” of 1978/9 for their sharing of responsibility and growing ruthless streak. Like Bob Paisley’s gang of moustachioed gnarly brilliant bastards, they mean serious business.
Like a youthful Ray Liotta in his smartest Italian suit; this stylish young mob also have the wild eyes of cold-blooded killers.
Sleep easy, foes.