MAYBE it’s just me but last season doesn’t feel like it ever really finished. The event that’s about to technically herald the start of the 2017-18 season — Liverpool’s game at Watford on Saturday — feels like a part two for 2016-17.
It’s as though it was scripted and made at the same time as last season’s story. A ready to go sequel. The sort of shit they do with Star Wars movies, I think. The protagonists are broadly the same although there was talk that part one’s hero, Phil Coutinho, might be killed off early doors.
Normally, I’m beyond excited at the prospect of the season’s opening Liverpool fixture. The summer transfusion of talent always gets me giddy. I’m all about the new lads. This summer has been weird, though. A season that finished on a high was set to be crowned by a transfer window of epic spending. Stars from the six continents jostling and pushing to get in line to join the mighty Reds.
To some extent that happened. But in the end their mums wouldn’t let them out to play. Future Liverpool legends are still anchored to apron strings in Leipzig and Southampton. The real all-new Liverpool should have been bolstered by £70million defensive colossus Virgil van Dijk and £70m midfield behemoth Naby Keita. It didn’t happen, it might still, but until then there’s a sense we’re only really going to be watching half a side.
Jürgen Klopp would slap me round the face for this. “Pull yourself together man! It’s not all about the transfers and the money, you know! This team has won nearly all of its warm-up games. It has been fantastically impressive at times. Did you see what we did to Bayern Munich? It was really cool. There is everything to be excited about . Everything to play for.”
Yeah, sorry boss, don’t know what I was thinking there. You’re right, of course. You’re always right.
Liverpool go to Watford in relatively rude health. Confidence is high after that productive pre season and although we’d have liked to see another couple of Liverpool debuts on Saturday morning, the one we will see, for Mohamed Salah, should be anticipated as much as any in recent times.
The club-record signing from Roma was bought for his pace and to lessen reliance on Sadio Mane’s specialist dash and verve. Salah is far from just a sprinter, though. He’s nearly as quick in the mind. From what we’ve seen thus far he’s a very economic player. He looks as though he thinks second touches are capitalist extravagance. Give Mo the ball and the likeliest outcome is that you get it straight back while he gets on his bike. From the evidence of pre season, Salah is a one-touch, high-tempo merchant, the model for a Liverpool player that was de rigeur in the golden era of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
As a consequence of an annoyingly swelling early injury list, the Liverpool team all but picks itself this weekend. Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne would all have started, maybe even Daniel Sturridge too, had they been available. They aren’t though, but the lads that are, are good ones too.
I’m excited to see Trent Alexander-Arnold at right back. My hunch is that he will genuinely be the cliched “(like a) new signing”. Yes he’s still only 18, and yes he’s not a natural defender, but he is a natural-born footballer. He can perform all over the park. As he gets older, managers may come to view him as too good to play at the back. He isn’t Steven Gerrard, but he might be Steven Gerrard. And don’t “@” me on that, because I’m not attempting to burden a rookie with ridiculous expectation. I am trying to say that he might — just might — be one of the special ones.
How excited Watford and their brand new manager Marco Silva will be about welcoming all of Liverpool’s flyers we don’t know. I’m hoping Klopp wants to find out as much as I do. The mature selection would be not to risk Mane from the start — he has only played three lots of 45 mins in pre season — but a facet of Klopp’s glorious Kloppiness is his child-like glee around football, and everything that it brings. Like us, he really wants to see what Salah and Mane in tandem can do to a defence.
As for the home team, they are very much of that second tier within the dual-level Premier League. They will not break the top six this season, but Silva is a promising young manager and will see the title of being “best of the rest” as being an ambition he’s entitled too. Watford folk will be excited about their new boys, and will read everything they can into how their new manager sets up the team. They can relax. They’d love to win on Saturday. It would be amazing to turn Liverpool over. It isn’t the end of the world if they fail, though.
We can’t relax. We can never relax. We play to win, and winning from the get go, as ever, feels essential. I’m packing my trunk for Watford now. A new journey starts here. We know who starts this adventure. Who will finish it is anyone’s guess.
The enigmatic Reds 11: Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Lovren, Moreno; Henderson, Can, Wijnaldum; Firmino, Salah, Origi.
Kick off: 12.30pm live on Sky Sports 1
Last match: Watford 0 Liverpool 1
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Odds: Watford 11-2, Draw 10-3, Liverpool 59-100