ANFIELD can’t come quickly enough. It’s been a frenetic start to the season, with goals and tension in abundance, but it isn’t a new season until the first ball has been kicked at home. I could go on endlessly about how much and why I love Anfield. There are many reasons, but one above all — Liverpool are that bit likelier to win, and win well there. I’m in it for the Liverpool goals.
Lots of us say they prefer the aways. The day out, the more hardcore nature of the support, the adventure. I’m sticking with the instincts I first felt as a child going to football matches. In away grounds it was horrible when the opposition scored. That overwhelming and seemingly endless roar and wild celebration at our misfortune. I hated that. I found it deeply upsetting and unsettling. I used to sink down onto the terrace floor and cover my ears and shut my eyes until I sensed it was over.
The only antidote to it would be a Liverpool riposte. And when I was a child Liverpool had some big ripostes in them. The ’80s teams I grew up with were good away from home, very good, but they were much better at home. Home always felt like home. A safer, happier, less dangerous place. Where the grass looked greener — Anfield’s grass does look greener, doesn’t it? — where the stands were redder, and where The Reds were mightier. I was and remain a goal junkie. A Liverpool goal junkie.
And so begins another Anfield journey, and as ever, I am a bit nervous about it. It feels like there are seasons in which the default Anfield experience is rewarding, and then there are others where too often I’m leaving the stadium scratching my head. The thing is we don’t often lose at Anfield, even in our crapper phases. Disappointment at Anfield usually comes in the guise of draws. I really dislike home draws. At least with the rarer defeats they are so awful and the meltdowns so melodramatic that you can be done with The Reds for a day or two. If we lose at home I metaphorically (and nearly literally) lock myself in my room for a couple of days.
Draws though. You’re forced to make sense of them. They can feel like disasters, but rationally there is a requirement to accommodate them. The ones that bug me more are not the variety in which you see points snatched away by late visitor equalisers at Anfield. I have a very personal dislike for the ones in which we score the last goal and just about prevent the home defeat. Lots of people go wild at those late point saving equalisers. I’ll celebrate, but I’m seething too.
Why are you doing that now, Reds? You could have done it at the beginning and spared us all a shitty afternoon. And don’t be thinking we’re impressed, Liverpool. All that huff and puff just to take a point. Real men take the defeat. Real men scorch the earth. Draws mask problems. Draws stop teams facing up to the full extent of their deficiencies.
I love football when it’s going very right for my team, but I take guilty pleasure in it going wrong. Don’t mistake me, I mainly hate it going very wrong, but if it has to, then there needs to be a solution at hand. I like the dramatic solution — sack the board, fire the manager, sign a whole new team, play all the kids. Draws don’t lead to those calls. They lead to pleas for calm, patience and hard work. These feel like very mediocre solutions.
Let Liverpool FC not open the 2017-18 home campaign with a draw with Crystal Palace. They arrive at ours with a new manager, with new ideas, and some new players. They also arrive dispirited after a 3-0 home thumping by newly-promoted Huddersfield and also suffering something of an identity crisis. The Palace of Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce were no great side, but they always had a sense of occasion, and Liverpool always represented ‘occasion’ to them. Be it them getting Selhurst Park shaking when we were in town, or being hyped up for a smash-and-grab raid when they came to Anfield, Palace have not been an easy ride for The Reds in recent years.
Their team news is that Wilf Zaha is injured. Good. He’s their best player. We should buy him. Our team news is a whole other subject. Few will pick the Liverpool 11 for Saturday correctly. Let’s hope Jürgen Klopp does. Problems abound for the Liverpool manager. In the treatment room, in the mind and in the legs. First team sure things and best players Phil Coutinho, Adam Lallana, and possibly Sadio Mane, will miss out. Nathaniel Clyne also won’t play and Emre Can is a doubt. The likes of Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino, Gini Wijnaldum and Mo Salah may have secretly been hoping for a rest after the exertions of two tough away games in the past week, but they won’t be spared. They will all be needed.
Opportunity, in turn knocks for others. Daniel Sturridge and James Milner can come into the side that defeated Hoffenheim without weakening it. A front three of Firmino, Salah and Sturridge looks an exciting one. On paper. On the field at Anfield Road it may be physically tested. Not just by a muscular Palace side but by the strains of early season work, and in Sturridge’s case by a lingering thigh injury that disrupted his pre season.
If Can doesn’t make it, Klopp will most likely bring Milner — an impressive midweek substitute — in as his replacement. The makeup of the central midfield three is not straight forward though. Henderson has looked more than leggy this week and there may be a temptation to switch him for Marko Grujic. A bolder move still would be to drop in 17-year-old Ben Woodburn in the number eight role. Ben’s 18-year-old buddy Trent Alexander-Arnold continues to confirm the maxim that if you’re good enough you’re old enough, so why not Woodburn too?
At the back, don’t expect changes. The four that played at Watford and in Germany have their critics, but their potential deputies aren’t knocking doors down to play. Meanwhile the Liverpool nation continues to wait on Virgil van Dijk.
I think will we’ll beat these, but there are too many compromises to be made in team selection for it to be pretty. Let’s grind this one out and set Anfield up for the season.
Predicted team: Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Lovren, Moreno; Henderson, Milner, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Sturridge.
Kick off: 3pm
Last match: Liverpool 1 Crystal Palace 2
Referee: Kevin Friend
Odds: Liverpool 2-5, Draw 22-5, Crystal Palace 10-1