I’VE properly parked Liverpool FC for the past fortnight.
The usually dreaded international break has provided welcome respite this time. It all feels a bit unnecessarily cruel at the moment and I’m just not enjoying it at all. Emerging from this mini hibernation blinking into the daylight only to see Jose Mourinho and Manchester United’s combined — off the charts — smugness is not a pleasing sight. I’d rather they just fucked off for now. We could do with sorting all of this out away from the general glare, and certainly far, far away from the context of their current sunny reality.
The news earlier in the week that Sadio Mane is injured and won’t face United felt like some divine cunt was putting a top hat on our misery. When it was revealed that star man Sadio (why couldn’t it just be Ragnar Klavan or Danny Ings again?) was actually going to be out for about six weeks that was about right. Let’s not just get kicked in the nuts, volley us all over the park, why don’t you.
United are thereabouts top of the league. They can’t stopping winning 4-0. Romelu Lukaku has forgotten how to have barren spells and all their flatter-to-deceive merchants are now just getting down to business. It’s disheartening and unavoidably throws our present misery into sharp relief. We are bottom of everything in our heads . It’s difficult to see where we buy a break from.
And yet, under Jürgen Klopp, we just simply have a habit of turning up for this type of fixture. The recent debacle at Manchester City bucked the trend, but generally this season, as last campaign and the one before that, the bigger the game, the better the Reds. One of the reasons for this is tactical. Certainly looked at simplistically. The better sides come at us, and leave green space in behind their back fours. Our boys can run, and run, and pass accurately. Given the opportunity no side does counter attacking like us.
The more complex reasons for Liverpool’s primacy over immediate rivals may be uniquely Klopp. The manager self deprecatingly described his formula at Borussia Dortmund as merely being one of “dragging the opposition down to our level”. Whatever the actual level it was clearly about finding a plane upon which Klopp’s teams knew how to win. Pep Guardiola described the experience his Bayern Munich encountered against Klopp’s side in equally non-prosaic terms — “they suck you in, and then they hit you with their runners”. Those runners. A lot to be said for them.
Mane’s injury means the mantle of runner numero uno will fall upon Mohammed Salah this weekend. The king of all Egypt — his two goals sending his nation to the World Cup finals in midweek — is in fine fettle. Six goals in 10 starts for Liverpool is numbers. He dovetailed well with Phil Coutinho in early preseason while Mane was still rehabilitating his previous injury. They will need to find that synergy again swiftly, and Roberto Firmino — nominally the striker requiring their service — needs to rediscover his own mojo.
If you talk to people around Liverpool, Mourinho’s tactics are an open book. He’ll do a Chelsea 2014 on us and just look to kill the game of football single handedly. To be fair, this was more or less the scale of United’s ambition at Anfield a year ago. I don’t know though. They are an obscenely confident team just right now. Their lads will feel they can take all comers and they will not fear Anfield, whatever we may tell ourselves.
This then plays out one of two ways then, and I can’t see a repeat of last year’s scoreless draw. If United are to be champions and keep a resurgent Man City at bay, they come to our ground and put down a marker by winning. No ifs, no buts, no setting stalls to take a creditable point. Likewise, if Jürgen’s Reds are not to see this season slide from disappointing to a full scale nosedive then this rot has to be stopping right about now.
Looking at imminent fixtures — United followed by Tottenham Hotspur — Liverpool need at least one big win. They get two bites at two big cherries. Sorting United out this weekend would be more than a weight off. Singular results are often lazily characterised as season kick starters, but this could be the genuine article. Leave all behind you Reds, drag them down, beat them up and let’s finally find a platform to get this party started.
Predicted 11: Mignolet; Gomez, Matip, Lovren, Moreno; Henderson, Can, Wijnaldum; Coutinho, Firmino, Salah
Kick off: 12.30pm on Sky Sports
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Odds: Liverpool 9-5, Draw 5-2, Manchester United 9-5
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