I’M really not enjoying this. It feels like a road much travelled and one that tends not to lead to the happy place.
Flashbacks coming at me. Bradford in 2000. A win and we were in the Champions League. We lost and we were not. Stamford Bridge in 2003. Victory please, Reds. Reds choke. 2009. A title charge. A noble one but we blinked first in drawing 4-4 at Anfield v Arsenal, and Manchester United took the honour. Then there was 2014, and Chelsea, and Steven Gerrard, and Crystal Palace, and all that.
It has obviously not exclusively been this way. There have been calmer and more successful run-ins for Liverpool in league campaigns. I recall few though where when the chips were down — when it came down to the last two games — that Liverpool simply got the job done.
Jürgen Klopp warned us a few weeks back — although we hoped he was joking — that nothing ran smoothly in his world. It will go down to the wire he jovially cautioned. Oh Jürgen, you tease.
I’ve been tracking the bookies odds like a kind of security blanket . As long as they’re showing the Reds as odds-on and the Uniteds and Arsenals at five and six to ones, I’m just about OK.
The anxiety that pervades all that involve themselves with Liverpool at the moment is borne of the fact that the Reds just aren’t playing like the Reds. The reasons are multifarious — too many injuries, too many miles in the legs, finishing line nerves — take a pick.
Do not expect Liverpool players to simply win two football matches from here on in. Dust down your old Stoke City scarf, zip up your Spurs trackie top and get your Leicester bobble hat out of the bottom drawer, kids, because these Reds are going to need every bit of assistance that might be going.
I’d urge my brethren to take as keen an interest in Stoke v Arsenal, Manchester City v Leicester and Tottenham v United as they will in Liverpool’s cup final in prospect at West Ham. Ordinarily it would be a time to be savouring a new away ground adventure with the visit to the Hammers new ground in the East London boondocks. This isn’t the time for sightseeing, though. This is the time for stout hearts and squeaky arseholes.
The Champions League is the prize and let no neary naysayers witter on about fourth placed cups, or second being meaningless or even cautioning and carping about having to play qualifying ties. This is the moment of truth. We finish in a Champions League placing and we can strengthen from strength. We can anticipate the next phase of Great Leap Forward. We can spend the summer holidays planning supplementary autumn holidays in Madrid, Barcelona, Munich or Paris.
Klopp is worried about Bobby Firmino’s fitness, but I’m not. We’ve only seen glimpses of the real Roberto in the past few weeks. He’s played too many games. Bench him, and bring him in for the break glass phase of Sunday’s game. Lucas Leiva is equally a doubt, but odds are he wouldn’t have started anyway.
Adam Lallana is back and ‘in a good moment’ according to his manager. He takes Lucas’s place, although Emre Can takes the berth.
A new Liverpool attack and a shift in shape should christen the club’s first visit to the London Stadium. I’m half expecting a diamond with Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge up top, and with Phil Coutinho probing and pressing from the depth behind them .
I’m hoping that Klopp tells his forwards to get wide and to exploit the space down the sides of West Ham’s new back three set-up. Create the spaces for Phil to drive towards and for Lallana and Gini Wijnaldum to surge into.
There are league games that get billed as being akin to cup finals. Some fairly so, others just hyped. In Liverpool FC’s modern history this game is a bonafide ‘shit or bust’ game. None of us should sleep the night before yet all of us should be ready. Prepare to roar Reds home and to rattle the hapless Hammers.
Course it would be nice if Stoke could just please tonk Arsenal on the Saturday teatime before our game and facilitate us simply dancing and conga-ing around that Olympic ground. That would be just swell. I like a cup final as much as the next person. I prefer a disco, though.
The jiving Reds: Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Can; Wijnaldum, Lallana; Coutinho; Origi, Sturridge.
Kick-Off: 2.15pm live on Sky Sports 1
Last Match: Liverpool 2 West Ham 2
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Odds: West Ham 9-2, Draw 31-10, Liverpool 8-11