I’M penning this on a plane. You may never get to read it. If Hoffenheim knock Liverpool out of the European Cup you won’t hear from me again either.
The stakes, they are high. I’m looking down on you but we’re in this together. Just right now, our togetherness is our main weapon. They’re coming at us from all directions. The high of a solid finish and qualification for Europe, sealed at Anfield against Middlesbrough in May, feels a distance behind us now.
What followed has been a summer of discontent and it doesn’t feel like it’s abating. We take steps forward — we sign the mighty Mo Salah, we win pre season games well — we take steps in reverse: we upset other clubs, we fail to sign important footballers, we look to lose our best player. Above us only sky but behind us a baying pack of naysayers.
In approximately one hour I’ll be grounded in Frankfurt, then training it to Heidelberg, before completing the last leg of what I/we hope is the start of a long running journey. We have the capacity for adventure. Liverpool Football Club is hard wired to adventure. Just let us through this the first gate and we — again — will render you with another perfectly original telling of “the greatest story ever told”. We know we can, and we know we will.
Liverpool in 2017 is built for the Champions League. Are you listening Philippe Coutinho? This is a team construction in progress, no doubt, but it will always have the capacity to reach impossible summits. Now more so now than ever.
The irrepressible timeless force that is Liverpool FC meets the piped piper that is Jürgen Klopp…meets the European Champions’ Cup. It’s a match that was always made in the heavens. Bill Shankly sensed it, Bob Paisley realised it, and Rafael Benitez returned us to it.
Rafa’s Liverpool were European specialists because he worked out that if you could find a way to not lose a football match then you had a big chance in a big cup competition. He also harnessed Liverpool’s energy — its home crowd, its Kop. They alone could build you leads at home, and away Rafa was minding the back door.
Klopp is different but he also has a recipe. Against all odds he took makeweights Borussia Dortmund to a Champions League final. His first weapon was shock and his second weapon was awe. He dragged Euro royalty down into the street fight they feared and then hit them with his runners.
Jürgen’s Liverpool are handicapped by the pressure of greater expectation than his Dortmund. We simply cannot fail to pass this qualifying round test. Well, we can but the fall out will send ripples beyond just one sporting season. This is Liverpool Football Club’s most important match in a goodly while.
The warm up for this started, funnily enough, in Germany. Klopp was maybe blessed with second sight. Liverpool played one team worse than Hoffenheim (Hertha Berlin) and one team much better (Bayern Munich). Liverpool scored five and conceded none. Germany’s card was marked.
Hoffenheim unfortunately — in one sense — are more Watford than Bayern Munich. They are economic, frugal and they score goals from set pieces. Thankfully — in another sense — Liverpool have just had Watford to practise on.
Klopp has no options. All of his options are getting treatment or are dreaming of playing for Barcelona. The 11 that nearly beat Watford must nearly go again. Expect James Milner to come in for Alberto Moreno but nothing else. The manager will say he is not worried by fatigue because it’s early season and the lads need more miles in their legs. He’ll mainly be telling the truth, but this is a match in which Liverpool will look to start strongly in with a view to a controlled finish.
We want to win. We really do. We take the draw and we rock Anfield though. It’s never going to and was never meant to be easy. I think we’ve got enough.
Expected team: Mignolet; Arnold, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Henderson, Can, Wijnaldum; Mane, Firmino, Salah.
Odds: Hoffenheim 2-1, Liverpool 5-4, Draw 5-2.