I STARTED writing this when I got back from the pub on Sunday night.
I was drunk.
I greeted my wife and went straight in with an “I’m bevvied” admission. It’s a tactic I’ll often use in those situations, when I’ve arrived home earlier than planned but more inebriated than I would usually be at almost 9pm. There are reasons for my unusually high level of drunkenness which are unconnected to the biggest game in the world, though; I’ve recently given up beer.
Not alcohol, just beer. For those of you who still drink beer in pubs with mates, you’ll have no idea how many problems giving it up causes. For those of you in my camp, I’d welcome any tips.
The problem is that, in the absence of beer (and having already ruled out cider),I basically now have to drink either wine or whiskey while watching The Reds. Either way, by the end of any game, I’m pretty drunk compared to my mates who are still drinking their usual four per cent proof lager. Sunday was no exception.
By half-time I actually hoped we’d win for far bigger reasons than Liverpool getting three points. If we’d won, my brain would have kicked into “we’re staying out for a big drink” territory and I’d have started sending messages to Neil Atkinson and others to find out where they were going to land when they got back from Manchester, ready for karaoke and drinks galore.
The draw meant I didn’t have the momentum for a big night out, but had still had about two bottles of wine before going home, trying to pick up some scraps of brownie points for not staying out all night while not being too much of a pain in the arse.
In my drunken state, my immediate reaction to the game was that it was a great point away at Old Trafford. If you’d offered me a point when I saw the team sheets, I’d have bitten your hand off and devoured it to the bone. As it stood at full-time, many Liverpool fans around me seemed disappointed with a 1-1 draw at Manchester United’s home theatre.
To put the result in context, and trying to be as objective as possible, we went ahead through a penalty given away in ridiculous circumstances by the most expensive player in the world, who perhaps should have spent more time working on how to mark big lads from set-pieces than designing his own emoji. Before then we looked a little vulnerable at times, and if it wasn’t for the greatest goalkeeper in Europe (who we signed from our reserves in the summer) we’d have conceded much earlier than the 86th minute.
Let’s be clear, we started a match away at Old Trafford with an 18-year-old at right-back and missing Nathaniel Clyne, Joel Matip, Sadio Mane and the beautiful little bundle of joy that is Phil Coutinho.
I’ve given Phil some stick in the past, mainly in the role of an overbearing dad who wants his son to fulfil the huge potential he knows he has, but his last two substitute appearances have shown us not just how good our little magician is, but how much he adds to the performances of the players around him. The way in which he can walk with the ball and seemingly make time stand still while defenders shudder at the thought of what he might do next is mesmerising. I hope we win the league if only to keep this little fella here for another year or two. I can’t bear to give up beer and lose Coutinho in the same year.
On my first drunken, emotional view of the match, I thought we did OK against a team that’s learnt how to win recently, but also thought that we were far from convincing for long periods against a team full of experience and guile. I thought that Trent Alexander-Arnold struggled, unsurprisingly, against United’s experience and pace and that it took his more experienced teammates to rescue him on a few occasions.
Having watched it back again in a more sober and less emotional state, our young right-back was actually far more composed and assured than I’d given him credit for at first glance. Obviously my chimp was going wild after too many glasses of Pinot Grigio, worried about Trent being exposed, when for most of the game he acquitted himself really well. The team performance was also far more convincing on second viewing than the crazy monkey in my head had led me to believe the first time around.
We spent long periods of the game in control and carved out a number of opportunities that, with a little more confidence and a touch more courage, could have led to a second goal. Granted, we had to rely on our goalkeeper to make a few saves straight out of the top drawer, but it’s about time we finished a game against United talking about our goalkeeper keeping us in the game as opposed to lamenting yet another man of the match performance from David De Gea.
At the end of the day, we took a point from our most fierce of rivals and we left disappointed. That speaks volumes for the level of performance our non-stop warriors put in.
I said last week that it wouldn’t be long until we saw a more positive performance from Emre Can, and he no doubt enjoyed having the opportunity to display his strength and physical attributes in a game as big as this, rather than being torn apart for failing to move the ball quickly enough against defences packed with as many big lads as they can line up from one side of the penalty area to the other.
The return of our captain fantastic no doubt contributed to Emre being able to focus on his own game, and the performances of Gini Wijnaldum, Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson, himself, meant that Paul Pogba was about the 11th best midfielder on the pitch despite his price tag, ridiculous haircut and emoji game.
The subtle switch in formation to a 4-4-2 diamond allowed Roberto Firmino to return to his best Artful Dodger role of picking pockets through the heart of the pitch, ably supported by possibly the best Lallana performance we’ve seen in a more advanced role and Divock Origi putting a shift in for the team.
Not allowing Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera time and space to dominate the midfield was always going to be key to taking something from the match, and we can no doubt thank our think-tank coaching staff for waiting for this game to unveil this formation and line-up. Lallana almost had a free role, meaning he could use his recently acquired levels of superhuman energy to help out Trent when needed and cover in at left-back to prevent a break, while making sure Carrick couldn’t get beyond half-time.
All of the above, combined with the reintroduction of Bobby Firmino playing with his little mate for the last half-hour, gave me enough encouragement that we’ll be back to terrorising defences across the country in the very near future.
What really matters after we’ve picked through the performance at Old Trafford, though, is what we do next. We’ve now got Phil and Jordan back. If FIFA pulls its finger out we might just have our best centre-half back at some point soon.
A big win against Swansea (after the kids do or don’t despatch Plymouth, I don’t really care either way, but I’d enjoy a Harry Wilson hat-trick to give us another option from the bench while Sadio is away) takes us nicely into a home game against Chelsea when we can expose the massive space behind Victor “surely he’s still just really shit” Moses with Phil, Bobby and Jimmy Milner drawing parallelograms around him with the ball until his head falls off.
Six points from our next two games will soon remind us all why everyone fell in love with Jürgen Klopp’s Reds in the autumn before losing some hope after we hammered Watford 6-1 and saw the last of all of our stars on the same pitch at the same time.
We’ve had what we’d all consider to be a rough patch, yet in that spell we beat Manchester City and drew at United and we’ve now got practically everyone back ready for the run-in. Whether or not we add to our ranks before the end of the month, if we can keep everyone in good nick we’ve got enough quality to go on a long winning run, which we need to start against Swansea on Saturday. I felt we needed a big game against the likes of United to kick us back into gear after some recent stale performances, and it could be that we look back at the draw, as disappointing as it was, as the catalyst we needed to go on the long winning run that we’ll need to take us to the promised land of the league title.
I’ve already started preparing my wife for the very real possibility that most weekends between now and May will include some form of drunken shenanigans and it’s highly likely that I’ll be heading out before games with no real idea of what time I’ll arrive home, always entirely dependent on whether Kloppo’s Kleptomaniacs have picked enough pockets to drive us to the karaoke bars that have been wrapped up in mothballs since May 2014.
Surely it’s no coincidence that they’ve re-opened The Saddle just in time for the run-in?