WHEN I was a kid we seemed to be exposed to quite a bit of Ancient Greek mythology. I think whatever passed for the national curriculum in the 70s was still rooted in the basic disciplines of an Empire education. Those Greeks. All their stuff seemed so long ago. Where they ended and Jesus/God began was always a bit of a blur. The scrapes these Ancients got themselves into. The lot of them morphing into one concept in my confused young brain . Helen. Troy. Jason. Argonauts. The Minotaur. Jesus. Moses. The Professionals. Scooby Doo.
The theme was always about there generally being a lot of shit to get through. If it wasn’t one thing it was another. Ordeals. Those bloody ordeals. Just when they’d ticked off all the day’s ‘to do’ list items, a whole new set of challenges would rear before them. No rest for the Greeks. Or Jesus or Scooby Doo, for that matter.
A lot of these tales of yore seemed to be about getting through a series of tasks or fending off a programme of threats to get to the goodies. Monday: kill the Minotaur, no small ask. Tuesday: see off the Hydra. And so on. No wonder these people needed a kip come Sunday, never mind the Lord.
Liverpool beating Stoke away and West Brom away is exactly the same as facing off the Minotaur and the Cyclops within the same week. Draining. Genuinely hard work. Ordeals.
Having slain these two very hideous brutes over the course of Holy Week has been more than satisfying. But there’s still work to do, the Reds.
Sam Allardyce and Crystal Palace up next. Shudders. They are pig ugly. Terrible to look at.
Liverpool’s quest is a two-headed beast. Well, it’s one that has a primary goal, closely followed by a secondary one that would be a greater achievement than the first one. If that makes sense. It doesn’t, so I’ll explain.
We need to get back into the Champions League. That requires a top-four finish and then a subsequent qualification tie. We’re taking top four all day long. It would be a fine reward for an impressive, but often fraught, season.
The loftier prize would be the third-placed finish. To bag that we’ll need to see off Manchester City. I think that would mean us winning at least four of our five remaining fixtures. It’s far from impossible, but I wouldn’t want the Reds to die trying.
Liverpool FC as an institution doesn’t take failure well. For some it suits to aim for the moon only to inevitably fall among the stars. This phenomenon doesn’t apply to us. When we miss the moon we go into a spiral dive and hurtle towards a big messy pile of shit in the gutter. We don’t treat success and failure as two sides of the same coin. We always fail to recognise the imposter.
Liverpool are culturally better suited to realistic goals. That is not to say we should lack ambition, but we’re better keeping expectations bowed than exalted. It would be great to be the team that comes up on the rails. The one that softly came from nowhere. Silent but deadly.
That’s not us though. We crash through the front door of parties — farting, burping, spilling beer and giving it the big one. We only have to win our first two league games of any given campaign to know that everything is possible. All of which feels at odds with our very self-styled sense of dignity and humility. Maybe we’re just the worst and we can’t see it.
In recent times, no side seems to have exposed our vanity for the ludicrous charade that can often manifest itself as Crystal-fucking-Palace.
They’ve spent the main part of this season as the dog-rough tramps of the top flight that they truly are. They put a cherry on themselves by appointing and anointing the Emperor of Crap, Sam-fucking-Allardyce, as their messiah. Surely keeping Palace up was asking one miracle too many of The Shit King?
But here he is. Here they are. All bouncy and reborn. The Terrible One has re-worked his magic, cast his spell once more, and they’re playing like Bayern-fucking-Munich. Just our luck then to be encountering these frightful beasts at their most gloriously ghastly.
Palace are hewn from the same rock and a product of the same folklores that brought us those dogs at Stoke and West Brom. It is our fate in this season to enter its final act facing trial by Crystal Palace.
A week’s rest between games will help steel us for our test.
Jürgen Klopp is a better man than I. He’s better man than you. I unashamedly still love him as much today as the day we first met. His beauty as a human being, never mind a manager, knows no bounds. Klopp is Helen of Troy.
He’s fantastic, humble, decent, wise — a leader. But above all else he’s a warrior. A winner. He’s a brilliant liar, too. A poker player. He’s feigning innocence. I’m losing it here, I know.
Klopp is doing a marvellous job of keeping his Reds nicely chilled. The balance recently has been just about perfect. The wins are important but there’s a subtext from the manager that says don’t let your heads fall off if one result goes awry. Let’s stay motivated, yet relaxed. Let’s be unstressed but also hungry. Angry yet controlled.
The manager seems to have quietly, and without many noticing, moved everyone on from the state of quasi-panic that had set in during that fortnight around the time of the Derby when we realised that we had virtually lost all of Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane for the remainder of the campaign.
The handicap these losses impose on this Liverpool cannot be understated, but for now we must carry on as if unfazed.
Klopp is exalting those still fit for service. He’s talking up the growing second coming of the Brazilians — Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho. He’s drawing attention to the spectre of Daniel Sturridge’s return to fitness — watch him in training, urges the manager. He’s trusting his keeper Si Mignolet. Relentlessly accentuating every last positive.
Five more trials for these red warriors. Palace are the perfect foe in the way that, say, Bournemouth — a fortnight ago — weren’t. Palace have been hugely effective at Anfield in recent seasons and arrive again in rare fine fettle. There is no danger of anyone at Liverpool taking this as a safe three points: a battle is anticipated, a battle is what we will get, and the battle is exactly what Liverpool need.
Predicted team: Mignolet; Arnold, Gomez, Lovren, Clyne; Can, Wijnaldum, Milner; Coutinho, Firmino, Origi.