IT’S so very cold in the city.
A chill wind is blowing up the Mersey and there’s no sign of respite. These are harsh times for Liverpool. The Reds are on the ropes.
I’m trying to stay chipper. Keeping it breezy around the house. Can’t let the kids know what I’m going through.
My youngest, Raffy, was in bits after Southampton. Really distraught and angry. He can make no sense of what’s going on. It all seems so terribly unfair to a seven-year-old. So unnecessarily cruel. His elder brother Danny (18) is fuming. He’s letting no fucker off the hook. Hates every player. One through to 11.
I’m trying to stay positive for my home team. Both the boys looked like they were going to lose it after the midweek defeat. My deepest darkest fear — dying aside, obviously — is that one of them turns round to me one day and just says “I’m sacking this off, Dad. I’ve had enough of these disappointing Reds.”
That would shatter my heart. The anxiety stops me getting complacent with my programme, though. I never forget that I’m stewarding young curious Reds and need to see them through to full adulthood, comprehensively brainwashed, utterly addicted, with no way back.
I’m catching myself tossing out platitudes and vocalised wisdom memes like there’s no tomorrow.
“It’s always darkest before the dawn, lads. Chins up. The Mighty Reds need you.”
I’m gathering them round and regaling them with tales of legendary Liverpool FC turnarounds.
“It was January 1982, boys. I was 15. A young tearaway (I wasn’t) with hopes and ambitions just like you. I was title dreaming but the Reds were stalling. Our new ‘keeper Brucie Grobbelaar was shit, our best player, Kenny Dalglish, wasn’t playing well. We had too many kids in the team and we looked consistently inconsistent. We had finished fifth the season before and it felt like we were going backwards.”
I then told them the story of the second half of 1981-82 season. Possibly still my favourite half-season ever. I can’t remember the exact stats but we win something like 18 of our last 21 games and storm to league title number 13.
“Yeah, but *as if* that’s happening to us now, though, Dad.”
I’m coming back with stuff that would shame a Pentecostal preacher trying to get home his message of faith and need to trust in higher forces, but I’m not even convincing myself.
Only Liverpool can save Liverpool now. The team that blazed a red streak across Premier league playing fields from August till November is fading from the memory of the collective consciousness. Some terrible blert on some terrible radio show was even calling for Jürgen Klopp’s head post-Southampton.
"Jürgen Klopp has to go!"
— BBC 5 live Sport (@5liveSport) January 25, 2017
This fool doesn’t represent the insurgency but if things don’t improve soon he’ll come to represent the first dreadful shoot of what could yet become a depressing spring.
The Liverpool manager, thankfully, looked calm and controlled in the wake of Wednesday’s Anfield defeat. He was faking nothing.
Wolves in the FA Cup this weekend is now that bit more important, but Klopp knows that Chelsea under Anfield’s lights — just three days later — will determine the course of Liverpool’s season. Had Southampton been despatched and the League Cup final reached, Jürgen may have been more sanguine about Wolverhampton Wanderers and the FA Cup.
Now things are different. At times like these, managers — the good ones, the bad ones and the ugly ones — are often tempted to put the blinkers on and only play the hand immediately before them. Klopp may be tempted to ignore Chelsea and focus only on getting his men back to winning ways.
I wouldn’t bet on it, but I equally wouldn’t be shocked if he picked the first team against Wolves. It would be a slightly crazy thing to do but let’s not rule it out.
The more probable outcome is that he selects a side just good enough to beat the Championship team, and one that would enable him to make 10 or 11 changes for Chelsea.
Loris Karius in goal again, then. Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back again. Alberto Moreno at left-back with Joe Gomez and Ragnar Klavan at centre-back would complete a back five that has a first team feel about it.
In centre mid, Klopp could go with the security of relative experience and select Lucas Leiva, Kevin Stewart and Gini Wijnaldum, or he could look to the academy for one of the three slots. Ovie Ejaria would have been the obvious option but for injury. Cameron Brannagan is likewise unavailable. Paulo Alves — a surprise pick for the bench at Plymouth — might be an even bigger surprise as a first 11 debutant.
Sheyi Ojo, Ben Woodburn and Divock Origi are the smart bets for the forward positions unless Klopp has seen enough of Daniel Sturridge lately to convince him that Origi would be the better option against Chelsea next week. If this is the case then expect the two to reverse roles, meaning Sturridge would see his second start in a week.
Wolves aren’t Plymouth. They’re only one division below and they’ll fancy themselves against a diluted Liverpool. If the weakened Reds are up for it that could prove a good thing. Bus parking has become de rigeur for Anfield opposition this season, and has proved a hard-going challenge for a home side shorn of confidence. If the Wanderers really are prepared to go for gold this could aid Liverpool’s cause.
It’s another one of those dreadful early kick-offs again on Saturday. My lads diminishing resolve will be further tested. I’ve had a big week trying to get them up for the cup. We all badly need a win.
Jürgen, you don’t know me, but our lives are converging just right now. I’m walking with you every step of the way. I’ve got your back. We can only look forward, mate. Our families need us.
Red lions to devour sheepish Wolves: Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Klavan, Moreno; Stewart, Lucas, Wijnaldum; Woodburn, Ojo, Origi.
Kick-off: 12.30pm live on BT Sport 2
Last Match: Wolves 0 Liverpool 3 (January 31, 2012)
Referee: Craig Pawson
Odds: Liverpool 4-13, Draw 5-1, Wolves 11-1
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