MATCH Day 12. The Reds are in the box seat. The Reds are bringing their all conquering touring revue show to a town near you. Southampton, are you ready? I can’t hear you.
The last away day at Crystal Palace was quite the disco for the travelling Kop. I wasn’t able to make the trek down The Smoke for that one, so try keeping me and Southampton apart.
It’s another up up with the lark job for this trip, and once more I’m being jockeyed there and back by mate ‘Blue’ Paul. Paul can’t wait to watch the Reds again. The Blues are letting him down. He wants to be where the party’s at.
‘Will you come with me to Southampton to watch the Reds, Paul? ‘Cause no other fuckers will.’
‘Yeah mate. What else am I gonna do?’
Paul’s taken pity, and he’s on board. It’ll be a feisty 7am start, and we should be in a South Coast Wetherspoons tucking into all-you-can-physically-digest-breakfast by 11 bells. It’s a long drive, but these are the hard yards you have to be putting in if you want to win titles. We may have to double up and have two breakfasts apiece to fortify for the day’s challenges. McDonald’s at Sandbach services, we’re looking at you.
Another firm away stalwart pal – let’s call him Neil – is threatening to jump in on this mission. He’s flinching at the idea of a stay-over in Southampton, though. I’m refusing to do the English Channel and back in a day. I’m insisting on a good night’s sleep before the return journey. Neil’s not so sure. He knows he’ll only have me and Blue Paul for company if we kip there, and we aren’t staying out till 4am with him in the ‘PopWorld’ on the High Street. He’ll have to fend for himself in the small hours. He’s streetwise enough, though. He’ll have his moves planned.
There’s been an international break fortnight to endure in getting setting for this match. I’ve kept myself fresh by watching football on TV that I don’t care about. Nothing like getting ensconced in front of the box — preferably in a boozer — to disinterestedly take in a game of no consequence.
Friday night’s treat – England-Scotland. The England won. Yay. Who gave a big one. On to Saturday night – what a night – me and my lads got ourselves up and out the house for Wales v Serbia. That’s WALES versus SERBIA. Not sure what the score was but what a game. Non-event matches both, for sure, but they both served their purpose in keeping me sharp. Match primed.
I consider watching games I don’t care about as being akin to the Reds playing behind closed doors friendlies against lower league teams. Both me and the guys are busying ourselves with keeping in peak condition for this title challenge. For them it’s Accrington Stanley at Melwood, for me it’s Wales Serbia in a pub on Lark Lane. We’ve all got jobs to do.
Some Liverpool players have really made hay during this international break. Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge and Phil Coutinho have filled their boots and won new friends during goalscoring showings for their countries. We’re all pleased for them. Though two of them are now doubts for Saturday.
International breaks have always been interlopers in seasons for as long as any of us can remember now. It’s nice to go into them with a win under your belt, but Liverpool didn’t need the break in momentum. Liverpool are men on a mission, blinkers on, facing only forwards. As much as the prospect of a trip to St Mary’s is fraught with the normal threats Southampton present on their own turf, we face also the secondary peril that sides with momentum face post-international breaks.
After the last one, we weren’t fresh in drawing 0-0 at home to Manchester United. Our stride had clearly been broken and Mourinho’s team were the beneficiaries. Then, there were more recovery days available than there are now. Now, Klopp faces genuine selection dilemmas for the first time in weeks.
For all I know, the Saints will have similar issues. The thing is, none of their lads are anywhere near a good as our lads. They can just switch them around a bit, feed them on raw meat and Lucozade and send them out. They’ll do what they’re going to do regardless.
Liverpool are the best team in the Premier League. The result of Liverpool fixtures is determined by how Liverpool decide to play. Up until game 11 that has largely been a very good thing. Liverpool have chosen to play very, very well.
Jürgen will know that Liverpool cannot be Liverpool every week. Inasmuch as, sometimes best laid plans, cannot possibly be best laid. Liverpool’s training for this crucially important match – they’re all crucially important if you’re champions elect – will be a one/two day job. It’s not enough. Liverpool FC are no ordinary team. Liverpool FC are a work of art. The Reds can’t be rushed at the moment. They need to be just so.
The manager has shown a propensity for valuing freshness over pedigree. Phil Coutinho may be eclipsing Lionel Messi as the world’s best player just right now, but his gaffer will only want the premium version of him out on a pitch representing Liverpool. A jet lagged, heavy legged Phil is therefore unlikely to be risked. The same is sure to apply to his mate Bobby Firmino. He featured in less minutes for the Brazilian national side, but he’ll still have spent the week schlepping halfway around the planet and back.
Kloppo and his backroom boys have known about this situation for weeks. Don’t think for one second they haven’t had a plan. Of course they have. You know when you watched Danny Sturridge and Div Origi playing up top in a two in a 4-4-2 diamond against Spurs a few weeks back? Remember that? That was the boss preparing you and the Reds for what’s going to be needed this weekend. These lads are that thorough. Don’t ever doubt it.
In the League Cup encounter with Spurs, Origi and Sturridge were backed up by fledgling new signing Marko Grujic. He had an entirely reasonable patchy game. This time out they get Sadio Mane. That’s a whole different boat of gravy. Sadio is the don. Sadio fears no man. Sadio cut his teeth in the English League with Southampton. He’s going to thank them by hurting them.
That’s some new front three in prospect – Mane, Sturridge, Origi. Pace, power, movement goals. Goals. Describe the kind of goal that those three can’t score. You can’t. They can score every goal. It’s as exciting a front three as Liverpool have put on a football pitch, since when.
Interestingly, maybe ironically, Liverpool started at St Mary’s with Origi and Sturridge in tandem last March. For 45 minutes, they and Liverpool were a whirlwind. Two-nil half-time leaders. Game over. Southampton had other ideas. They blasted Liverpool three times in the second half to run out 3-2 winners. Sadio Mane scored two of their goals. Still, a lesson must be learned. Liverpool will want to play with all of the intensity that has become their trademark this season, but team changes, that international break, and angry eager opponents, will mean that there can be no formalities.
Game 12 might be a game Liverpool have to win in its last act. Firmino and Coutinho, although unlikely starters may be given the chance to be decisive. Adam Lallana is an unlikely starter, so it looks likeliest that the Reds set up with Henderson, Can and Wijnaldum as the main midfield three.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting the minutes here. This cannot come quickly enough. It’s been a long, drawn-out painful international break, but the thought that me and those Reds will be reunited in a wet and windy southern coastal ground has got me through. Kept me strong.
Match day 12. Another day, another potential milestone. Another stepping stone on this long march of ours. This thing of ours. Blue Paul is ready. I’m ready. Our Neil might even be ready. Are you?
The ever ready red 11 to swat the saints:
Karius; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Can; Mane, Origi, Sturridge.