AFTER what can only be described as the euphoric highs of the past few weeks supporting Liverpool in the Champions League, I genuinely thought that I’d struggle for something to write about this week.
I’ve been playing my own small part in trying to make sure that those reading my articles were as excited as I was about what was to come in those momentous games, but there isn’t a huge European game on the horizon until the final in Kiev in a few weeks.
However, I’d forgotten about Twitter.
I’d forgotten that for some people there will always be something to complain about, unless Liverpool win every game 8-0 (and, even then, why wasn’t it 10-0, eh?).
And not just complain. To descend as quickly as humanly possible into the depths of despair about what’s going wrong at the club and how so many mistakes have been made, despite the club being in its first Champions League final since the defeat to AC Milan in 2007 — and only the eighth in its entire history.
Only seven other finals in 126 years, and we’re going to one in three weeks. Doesn’t that make you happy?
I’ve been analysing the things which make me less than happy in life a lot lately. I’ve been taking more care to be aware of anything that makes my back suddenly tense or my blood pressure rise.
It’s amazing what you can discover once you start paying more attention to those things and the language you use when talking about them. I’ve found myself lately using the phrase “I just can’t comprehend it” fairly frequently and noticed that not being able to comprehend something leaves me unusually baffled and shaking my head.
The outpouring of grief after the Chelsea game on Sunday was one of those very moments.
There is, sadly, a section of society in general which I simply can’t comprehend no matter how much I try. For the purposes of this website, that includes some Liverpool fans in particular.
There was some negative reaction to my decision, after a few pints watching the Chelsea match, to focus on the positives on The Anfield Wrap’s post-match show rather than slaughter the team for losing a close game against one of its biggest rivals by one goal.
Let’s be clear. In any season, regardless of any other games either side or any other context, losing 1-0 at Stamford Bridge has never been a disastrous result.
Ah, but what about throwing a two-goal lead away to West Bromwich Albion and failing to beat Stoke City at home?
The same point applies.
How many times have we and other top sides struggled away at West Brom or at home to Stoke? Regardless of the context, those games are not, and have never been, easy.
Which brings us nicely to the root of the problem… Context.
For most, this doesn’t need saying, but I’m going to say it anyway for my own sanity and to try my very best to connect with those who are furious about the last three league games.
The West Brom game came three days before the first leg of a Champions League semi final.
The club’s first Champions League semi final since 2007.
At 2-0 up in that game, our manager decided to take off our explosive top goalscorer in order to save him for the biggest game this club has played for 11 years (other than the Europa League final which you could argue isn’t as big, given the relative prizes on offer).
After making that substitution, we subsequently conceded two late goals to a rejuvenated West Brom side that had won away 1-0 at Manchester United the previous week and has gone on to beat Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur in its subsequent games.
I think we can all accept at this stage that West Brom’s league position is a result of the previous eight months rather than the point at which us, United, Spurs and Newcastle have all encountered it. One of the biggest myths in football is that things even themselves out over the course of a season. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; that’s a load of bollocks.
If we’d played West Brom while Alan Pardew was managing them to more taxi robberies than points in the league we would have won comfortably. Unfortunately for us, we met them after Darren Moore had picked them up off the floor and turned them back into the West Brom team we’ve struggled against for years.
Following that result, and that substitution, we went on to absolutely destroy a team which had knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League in the previous round. We scored five goals with our amazing Egyptian king playing out of his skin.
I think that was enough to vindicate the manager’s decision to substitute him and avoid the risk of a fatigue injury three days before, don’t you?
The Stoke game then came four days after that whirlwind of emotion and energy and, in the stands and on the pitch, it was understandably flat.
Jürgen Klopp took the difficult decision to rest a few players to avoid further injuries and ensure as much freshness as possible for the second leg of a Champions League semi final which was just another four days away.
We played against a Stoke side which, after the opening 10 minutes, decided it would settle for a draw. If you haven’t seen a Liverpool side struggle to beat a Stoke side playing that way on numerous occasions in the past, then you haven’t been watching Liverpool for very long.
In the ground that day, even the supporters were knackered after the exploits of the previous weeks, so God knows how the players were feeling after not only the first leg against Roma but also the physical and mental energy that had gone into knocking Manchester City out of the European Cup a couple of weeks before.
After that disappointment, we travelled to the Stadio Olimpico and watched our first-choice lads put every last drop of energy into securing a place in a Champions League final.
A Champions League final.
Then, another four days later, basically the same lads were tasked with going to Stamford Bridge and lost by the narrowest of margins.
Injuries and lack of squad depth have forced effectively the same 11 lads to carry the majority of the burden of the run described above, meaning that by the end of the Chelsea match they were understandably not firing on all cylinders.
If there are people reading the above and not immediately thinking they might have been a bit harsh on this Liverpool side after a knee-jerk reaction post match on Sunday, then we’re back to me simply not being able to comprehend what they’re thinking.
The only place I can think to start is to ask them what their expectations are. I had an interaction with someone on Twitter after the match on Sunday in which he seemed upset with my replies to his negative comments about the post-match show.
When I asked him what he expected to happen he said that he didn’t know, which I think sums up the problem nicely because, as far as I can see, the issue here is expectation.
If there are people upset that Liverpool are in the Champions League final and will qualify for the Champions League again next season by beating Brighton at Anfield on Sunday, ask them what their expectations of this team are, or more importantly what they were at the start of the season.
Did they expect more than this? If so, at what point did they start to expect that? Was it on the opening day of the season when we drew 3-3 with Watford? How about when we got beaten 5-0 by Manchester City, drew 2-2 with Sevilla or 1-1 at home with Burnley in the first two weeks of September?
If you’d said then that we’d be in this position at this stage, would they have taken it? If not, I think it’s time to have a serious word with them about what it is they’re hoping to get from the experience of supporting a football team and consider doing something else instead, because this is never going to make them happy.
Do they just expect us to win every game regardless of the context? Do they think that footballers should never get tired because they get paid too much money to feel fatigue in their legs?
Do they think that Mo Salah should never be substituted, but fail to see that it’s during those minutes he’s not on the pitch that he would be most likely to pick up an injury if he were still playing? Would they not be furious with Klopp if he didn’t take him off and he pulled his hamstring, ruling him out of The Reds’ biggest games in a decade?
Can’t they see that for every team in world football, even the very best, there’s a drop off in intensity between huge Champions League games?
Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with calm and reasonable criticism of the club and its management when the time is right. The irony of the fume I faced after the Chelsea game is that I was subjected to an equal amount of fume following a show in early February when I had the audacity to question the club’s decision not to buy another attacker to replace Philippe Coutinho.
My point then was that our best-case scenario is where we find ourselves now, on a knife edge praying that our attacking players don’t get injured, and having to endure either fatigued performances from the likes of Salah and Bobby Firmino, or appearances from Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke which suggest to us that they’re not yet at the required level to step into our front three.
My view on January hasn’t changed. I still think we should have bought someone, which might take some of the pressure off now, but I acknowledge that it’s not that straightforward.
If we had, for example, bought Thomas Lemar, we might not have seen the extra team bonding that seemed to come after Coutinho’s departure, or the improved performances of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
In a sliding doors world, we might have persuaded RB Leipzig to let Naby Keita join us early and we might have been knocked out of the Champions League by Manchester City because Chamberlain wasn’t even on the pitch to score his thunderbolt.
The point is, we don’t know what might have happened if things had been done differently in January, but we do know that the decisions made by the club and, Klopp in particular, have led us to this point.
Those choices have led us to having two games left, one home league game against a Brighton side with the second worst away record in the division with nothing to play for, which if we win will secure Champions League football for next season (and we might not even have to do that depending on how Spurs and Chelsea get on in their remaining games), and a Champions League final against Real Madrid.
I’ll say that again.
A Champions League final against Real Madrid.
This season’s achievements have been nothing short of incredible.
If some people can’t see that and instead decide to complain and moan about drawing against West Brom and Stoke and getting beaten 1-0 by Chelsea, I can’t comprehend their approach to life.
I’ve seen some people suggesting that qualifying for next season’s elite competition is more important than winning the European Cup this season.
That is just fucking crazy, and I would love to have seen what those people were thinking that were saying when Brendan Rodgers waved the white flag against Real Madrid in 2014 in order to prioritise league games.
I saw someone say that if we don’t qualify for next season’s Champions League he can’t see how we’d ever recover. Really? That dramatic? After everything the club has been through since its last European Cup final appearance, you think not qualifying for the Champions League would cause irreparable damage? Nonsense.
No words pic.twitter.com/Nt7wMQy9NX
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) 3 May 2018
I’d gamble next season’s qualification on winning another European Cup every day of the week because, I tell you what, I’ve already forgotten the years we weren’t in the Champions League, but I’ll never forget Istanbul. Ever.
I’ve been asked a few times lately whether I’m worried or panicking about what’s happened in the league for the past few games.
To be clear and to put that in context for anybody thinking of asking me again, you could ask me if I’m worried that a nuclear bomb has been launched and is on its way to Liverpool, and I’d still say no. I don’t believe in worrying or panicking about anything.
While others waste their time and energy with those pointless pastimes, I’ll be getting on with enjoying myself and finding solutions to problems. Worrying and panicking doesn’t achieve anything, so it’s a complete waste of time.
While I can’t comprehend those who are choosing to focus on the very minor negatives of the past few weeks, what I can say is that when spouting negativity to those of us who are focusing on just enjoying every last moment of this amazing season, don’t be surprised if we take the piss.
They have every right to be miserable bastards if they want to be, just don’t be surprised if the rest of us refuse to buy into that negativity.
Where we are with two games left is nothing short of sensational.
If some people can’t appreciate that, I’m not sure what will ever be enough to make them happy.
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Good piece Paul. Very much enjoyed it. It’s too easy at times for people to ‘buy into’ the immediacy of a lot of these (often press led) narratives. Context is all important, not just here but surely in every facet of life. Klopp has just led us to a second European final in three years, that is something that was inconceivable as recently as ’14/’15. We’re on the brink of top four again and in the conversation for the transfer of top European talents like Fekir, Pulisic and Jorginho with Virgil Van Dijk now a towering fixture, and Naby Keita on the way.
It’s not so bad. :)
Have really enjoyed your optimism throughout the European run, Copey!
After all, this is sport. If people can’t enjoy what they’re watching under Klopp…might as well jib football altogether!
One thing I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around, though: why do they give automatic (Champions League) qualification to the Europa League Winner, but not to the Champions League Winner? Seems a bit silly not to invite the defending Champion back…
The Champions League winner *does* qualify for next seasons competition.
Paul Cope the voice of sanity. Great read.
The Champions League winners do get automatic qualification mate. It used to be different but they changed it the year we won in ’05 because we finished 5th in the league. The argument was that the competition would be devalued if the winning team were not invited back to defend it.
Good to know. So, even with an unlikely disaster against Brighton, we can still qualify. What a final day of the season that would be!
You will know I was one of the, if not THE persistent malcontent regarding your approach taken on the Post Match Show. To reiterate I was more referencing my preference to stick to the format which is ‘supposed to be’ the feeling / reaction to the game you have just seen, immediately after it and I will hold firm that navigating away from that to wax lyrical about how fortunate we should all be as fans to be on the cusp of glory means we should all should just shut up about the impact of the Chelsea performance. And again, I reiterate that the overriding feeling HAD to be; are we not witnessing the burn out of our squad at the business end of the season.
Saying that, this is a brilliantly written article with some very well evidenced points and, for me, is a far more accurate summary of context in that the context is ‘things that have happened along the way to make the team perform the way they did’ and not what seemed a lazier context (at the time) of ‘we All need to stop whining because we’re going to Kiev and we’d have all taken that at the beginning of the season’
Thanks for the effort that must have taken to pull that together
Have you ever played any football at a level where by you have been in and under pressure as OUR BOY’S…. NO MORE THAN LIKELY….. As per this Chelsea team not turned up most of the season and they did against us. That’s just how football is….YOU THINK CHELSEA, UNITED, TOTENHAM AND ARSENAL FAN’S MODERN MONG’S AS SOME ARE AS YOU ARE BEI G WOULD SWAP WITH US…. everytime they would….Copey has been on it for months now….if as uneducated LIVERPOOL FANS YOU CAN NOT UNDERSTAND AND NOT BE POSITIVE THEN PAUL’S RIGHT WTF IS UP WITH YOU PEOPLE…..
Hear, hear … Copey. 100% agree with you. This LFC journey…with ups and downs…is to be savoured.
Supporting Liverpool has always been an experience that goes alongside life. I always remember the Arsenal defeat in May 1989 when someone, whilst leaving the ground at the end, summed that defeat up (and the league title handover) brilliantly – ‘worse things happen in life you know’.
This article sums up where we are now. Let’s all embrace the ride. Outstanding writing Paul.
I’d gamble next season’s qualification on winning another European Cup every day of the week because, I tell you what, I’ve already forgotten the years we weren’t in the Champions League, but I’ll never forget Istanbul. Ever. You have brilliantly put my feelings here.
“ONLY our 8th European cup final…..”
hahaha – more than United, Chelsea, Everton, City, Spurs and Arsenal combined!!!
Lots of positives, great read.
7 finals in 126 years, erm, European cup started in 64 or something didn’t it. ? Actually, just checked, its 55 according to Wiki. Making it sound like one of those bollocks ‘Premier league’ stats, although, in reverse.
126 years of lfc I think he was referring to
D’you know what, there’s people complaining about how fast allez, allez, allez is being sung! #tempowankers
It should be slower, same as YNWA.
People sing them like they can’t wait to finish them.
Well said. Rory Smith said on Twitter that he couldn’t understand Liverpool fans, a few weeks away from a CL Final, already banging on about who they want in midfield next season. That, as well. Twitter isn’t, you’d hope, an accurate reflection of the broad body of Liverpool fans but as a kind of panicked, lunatic fringe, it needs to be given a wide berth. We don’t want to head into Arsenal TV territory. I’m as guilty as the next person of going through my fantasy wishlist when it comes to signings, but the match against Madrid is the be all and end all. And we will now, almost certainly, get what we need against Brighton, at home, on the last day of the season, and we’ll be back again next year in the CL. But ideally, we’ll be CL Champions as well, because that is *THE* thing. And if we perform but fall short, if we’re desperately unlucky, if we’re the victims of poor refereeing or Ronaldo’s abs or whatever, well, what a journey it’s been. What a fantastic season, even then. What a platform to build from.
Well said Paul. It’s all the usual gobshites who thinking (a) playing (b) managing at the very top of the game is easy and they have all the answers. It’s not and well paid as they are it is anything but easy (otherwise we would all be out there on the pitch or in the dugout). What Klopp is building is unbelievable and thank fuck most of us get that otherwise he would probably just say bollox to you LFC you miserable twats and sell his house in Formby.
There should be a website for all the miserable moaners to have all to themselves full of Armageddon about how shite Lovren, Henderson, Trent are, Klopp can’t defend, we need a genuine no. 9, Robinson should be repacked by a 75m left back and all the other moans. And they should also get their own section of the ground to stand united next to the away fans moaning and getting on our players backs at the first sign of a mistake.
A Champions League final verses Real Madrid. Jesus Christ!
Couldn’t have said it better Paul. Whilst seeing these hiccups occur is frustrating in the moment, there needs to be a voice of reason in the back of your head that says ‘yeah, alright lad, that’s a dip and a lost opportunity. But there’re dips in every season. And the dips this season have been a hell of a lot shorter and shallower, and the peaks have been a hell of a higher and more sustained, than for a good long while’.
The journey is what being a football fan is all about. I think it was Neil who made the point on a show a few weeks back saying that once you’ve won something, it’s great for a week or two weeks or whatever, but it’s really about the getting there, and the joy you feel and the experiences you share with friends and other fans over the course of a season.
If you’re not enjoying THIS journey, with this manager and this team, then I truly don’t understand you.
There are professional football players out there older than me, but aside from the Peter Pan of Yokohama FC, I am of the age where I’m getting closer to accepting ‘ what you’ve got’. This includes being pragmatic about the nature of the manager of my favourite team . He gambles a lot. On getting his player targets or nothing else. On possibly having just 3 available midfielders by April, doing stuff outside their limits ( his words post Rome). On Solanke bursting through 0 goals to decent figures. Using majick against money.
Spot on, Paul. Only thing I’m worrying about is if I get a ticket for Kiev !
Its all fair and i agree with most of it but one thing i don’t fully inderstand is player fatigue. Ive got a mate who can run an ultra marathon one day and then warm down the next with a 15 mile run. Yes he carries injuries from time to time but never seems to fatigue as such. Should these lads really get tired from legging it a bit and kicking a ball for 90 mins a few times a week.. or is it the mental exhaustion that gets them?
Nice article Paul. For those of you who are still not convinced why you should just enjoy the ride and revel in whatever we are seeing from this team and Jurgen, just read Jurgen’s speech below.
Whatever happens this weekend and tomorrow, know this, we are in great hands and we have a team to be proud of, hope and believe in for 90 minutes of fun and enjoyment.
Jurgen’s Speech to the Football Writer’s Award
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before anything else I would like to say on behalf of everyone at Liverpool Football Club how pleased we are to hear that Sir Alex Ferguson is already making a speedy recovery after his recent illness. You don’t have to be from this country or Scotland to appreciate his genius or importance to football – but the extent of the coverage in your publications following the news last weekend proves his status transcends his own profession. It’s fantastic news to hear he is already making big strides to a full recovery and at LFC we are delighted about this.
Please accept my apologies for not being with you in person tonight. It is the club’s own award ceremony at Anfield and as such I need to prioritise being here with the rest of the team. Given this is the Football Writers‘ Association I thought a written acknowledgement from me that someone could read out on the evening would make more sense than a recorded message.
In terms of a Liverpool presence at your event tonight, hopefully we have managed to show the respect it deserves, despite the clash with our own annual awards.
Your winner, Mr. Salah, is either with you now or on his way depending when this message is read out. It is typical of Mo’s character that he was so keen to attend. And I don’t mean being greedy for awards, but being gracious and good mannered to make every effort to be there in person and thank you for the honour.
There’s not much I can say about what he does “on the pitch” that you guys haven’t already seen and written about. The fact you have voted for him as your player of the season reflects that you have witnessed his incredible quality as a footballer. But it’s his qualities as a person that should not be overlooked.
I read and hear about him being a wonderful role model for Egypt, North Africa, for the wider Arabic world and for Muslims. This, of course, is true, but he is a role model full stop.
Regardless of race or religion – country or region of birth. The only “labels” we should put on Mo is what a good person he is and what a fantastic footballer he is. And by the way, the first part of that is more important in life than the second.
Mo is someone who sets an example of how to approach life and how to treat others. Around Melwood, with his teammates and the club staff, he is gentle and humble despite being the international superstar he is now.
The attention and acclaim has not changed him even by 0.01% percent. He arrived at Liverpool humble and warm and this is the same boy who comes to be with you all tonight to accept your generous recognition. Although maybe a little more tired and weary of selfies and autographs, so keep that in mind please!
Mo, we are very proud of you and thankful for what you have done for this team and club and of course we look forward to sharing many more seasons with you at Liverpool. In a season when Manchester City have been outstandingly good and played outstandingly well, football from another planet, you have won the two major awards. The one voted for by your fellow professionals and now the one voted for by the football writers.
You are world class Mo, truly world class. And what’s even more exciting, for you, for Liverpool, and for the public who get to watch you play: you can and will get even better.
Congratulations my friend.
Aside from Mo, I have another member of my team with you all this evening, and his presence is, I believe, recognition of the importance of your industry: writing and journalism.
Rhian Brewster is just 18 years old. During the past 12 months Rhian has established himself as one of the most exciting prospects in English football. He has grown and risen in status at Liverpool. He won the world cup for your country at his age level, he won the golden boot at that very same tournament. He made his family, his friends, his club and his country proud in doing what he did on the football pitch.
But it was away from the football pitch and instead in the pages of a UK newspaper, where Rhian made an even bigger impact on the game we all love and even a significant impact on society.
Aged just 17 at the time, and at his own behest, albeit with the support of his family and friends, plus the support of the incredible academy staff at Liverpool, he sat and spoke about racism in modern football with the same power, command and composure that he shows when playing.
The newspaper who carried the original story was then supported by other journalist and other publications, many of whom I am sure are in the room tonight, in making sure Rhian’s voice was loud and clear in articulating that racism and discrimination still exists and persists in our game.
That it takes a 17-year-old boy to do this is as frustrating and depressing as it is inspirational and uplifting. That many of you in the room were so supportive in spreading his message is testimony to journalism in this country.
It is fitting that alongside Rhian as part of the LFC table tonight is Troy Townsend and other colleagues from Kick it Out. Troy and Kick It Out supported Rhian, Liverpool and other players during the very difficult periods following the occasions of racist abuse. They do so for players, staff, supporters up and down the country.
Troy and the team at Kick It Out help to educate players and staff at Liverpool, be it first team, academy or Ladies, on the importance of recognising we all still have lessons to learn in football and in life to ensure we are inclusive and not discriminatory.
As Rhian articulated so well in his interview – in England we are fortunate that big strides have been made whereby his own experiences have been largely restricted to European and International competitions, but sadly racism and discrimination is not exclusive to football overseas and therefore Troy and Kick It Out are still as important as ever to the game in this country.
I would like to finish with two points; and I hope they do not in any way sound ‘preachy’. If they do, blame the person reading it, it is their fault clearly.
The first is to thank the English media for the coverage it continues to give football in this country. I am probably guilty, like many on my side of it, of bemoaning “the press” at times, lumping everyone in together. But I know the game enjoys the prominence and profile in England because the media devotes so much time and energy to covering it.
In some respects, those of you in this room share the same journey as the players you cover. You have to show dedication and sacrifice; you have to constantly keep learning your job and adapt to changes; you make mistakes and learn from them; you are under huge pressure to deliver. And maybe it is good old English irony that in the age of social media many of you are now subjected to the same scrutiny and comment on your performance.
And that brings me to my second and final point. It’s a World Cup year, and many in this room will no doubt be writing and broadcasting on the players performing for their country.
Clearly as a German I will be supporting my own country, and I have actually lost count of the number of countries I have claimed to be backing as my second team in Russia. I suppose that depends on the nationality of the reporter asking.. I think to date I have said “if not Germany then…” and declared for Egypt, Senegal, Croatia, Serbia, Brazil and even Iceland.
If Mo Salah is in the room, then Mo, ignore this next bit. Because if it’s not Germany, then it must be Egypt of course. But: England is a team I now have great interest in and I really wish Gareth Southgate, his staff and the team the best of luck.
Gareth is still a relatively young manager, and both for him as a coach and many of his players, I think this will be a first World Cup at senior level. I think as the English media you can help them, if you are minded to do so. And that doesn’t mean to be ‘cheerleaders’ or ‘ignore’ failure and mistakes.
It just means remembering they are a group of relatively young people who will be giving their best and trying their hardest to make a nation proud and happy.
You are blessed in this country with wonderfully talented, skilful, honest, committed and tactically astute players. You are blessed with a coach who is brave and innovative.
England has the tools because the manager and the players have the mentality, attitude, character – it is all there for you.
Maybe reduce the pressure a notch or two, that is where you can help I think. Maybe take the numbers 1966 off your computer keyboards for the summer and let this team write their own history and memories.
Regardless, I hope those of you travelling to Russia have a tournament to enjoy and remember for the right reasons. Enjoy your evening and thank you for making the right decision when voting and for once, I don’t mean Brexit!