Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 1 Brentford 0 in the Premier League at Anfield…


THE Big Nine.

There is something inherently, well, silly in a lot of what we do. I’m OK with that, but at times it feels like some people aren’t. The football trick for us is what people will and won’t take deadly seriously. What they will choose to enjoy and what they will choose to be angered by.

It’s been an infuriating season. In a seat I sit in from time to time I have noticed a guy who always seemed quite balanced in his response to The Reds find that the campaign has absolutely burned his head out. It’s done him in. He has no faith in any of them in any given moment. A believer to a doubter.

The Big Nine.

Under this manager I will always fancy them. It’s the truth of the matter. But under this manager I will fancy this more: It will become the most fun. The word “fun” doesn’t actually do it justice. It suggests Saturday morning television, gunge and Pat Sharp. It’ll become lifeblood. It’ll become bounce.

I looked at it all after Arsenal, fixtures, Eurovision and coronations and I thought let’s back the boys because to not do so is to deny lifeblood. Let’s back the manager.

Back The Big Nine.

I’m away at the minute. Had a lovely afternoon in Carragher’s with some new friends for this one. When I am away I spend more time with Samantha and we get to talk which we often don’t get to do because “jobs” and she said: “Stop calling him ‘the manager’. It’s infuriating.”

But he is the manager. My manager. And he has managed. Today he manages. Today he is thinking almost entirely about what they can do from set pieces and it informs almost every decision.

Brentford are special from set pieces. They aren’t a set piece team, they are much more than that, but they are a team looking for every marginal gain and they push every single envelope around deadballs.

Brighton & Hove Albion are the hipster team of choice this season but Brentford for me are hipper again. There are no World Cup winners. There is little budget and little spend and there is so much awareness about how to make the whole pitch a battleground. There is no restart they don’t glory in.

It means games need to be well refereed. On this, Liverpool approach crisis point. Our issue isn’t just bad refereeing, it is that our team has lost all faith in refereeing, not least because we so often seem to be refereed in bad faith.

There are so many decisions we haven’t got for so long, especially around Mo Salah, that it is hard to believe in good faith. This is deepened when so many referees we get at Anfield do their big shop in the Greater Manchester area.

I am concerned about people feeling all this ends up seeming “tinfoil hat”. But Liverpool, literally the manager and the coaching staff and the players wouldn’t be human if they themselves didn’t wonder. Footballers and football clubs – see Fulham recently at Old Trafford – talk about referees in Sunday league terms. “This fella hates us”. My wider point is that I don’t think Liverpool believe in the referees and, to be honest, I simply don’t blame them.

Because you have to do your big shop somewhere. Because you grow up with bias. Because you have something to prove. Because the man who is now in charge of PGMOL rose to the rank of Sergeant in South Yorkshire Police in the 90s and I watched him referee The Scousers.

The Scousers. As the irrepressible Tony Evans will tell you, Scousers was a pejorative to start with and still so often is now. It resonates. It’ll be a couple of days of that sort of thing given what happens before kick off. It speaks for itself with gusto and it is, across the board, for the club and for the city and for us as individuals, a cost of doing business. It is a weight but it is also a positive, a reinforcement of identity. Prior to the match in a WhatsApp group we have Imani Williams messaged this:

“I kinda love Liverpool supporters around the world getting the word out about the coronation and Anfield this weekend. I’ve seen detailed tweets in Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic – just explaining the whole national anthem thing in their own language with Scouse ideals.”

There’s a Marilyn Munroe quote John Gibbons is fond of in the context of Liverpool supporters and their relationship with the club’s ownership: “If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” I love this in the context of today because prematch was both at once, a great swaggering slab of belligerence which I can imagine could irritate a fair few but which gratifies so many. Everyone is in it for identity and for journey. The glory is the sweet silver song of the lark of a by-product.

The Big Nine stayed alive because Liverpool were well organised and physically robust. Because Curtis Jones and Trent Alexander-Arnold are Liverpudlians who occasionally show their worst but by Christ are downright adorable at their pretty consistent best.

Because Mo Salah is the brightest spark in the country still. He has a first half hour of being as involved as it gets. He is everywhere.

The selection is bold but a direction of travel. It helps massively that Cody Gakpo is massive. You need to be able to pick units while being able to pick eights who could be not just 10s but wide forwards. For all this to work the flexibility needs to never stop.

Fabinho plays well while being isolated. Both centre halves will do for me. It is easier to be Andy Robertson when we are on top than when we come under it.

Liverpool should make it two and Darwin Nunez should make it two and this is likely to become, one way or another, a crunch question. He has the right ideas in his movement both when we have the ball and when we don’t. His link-up play continues to improve and so there is a certain savagery in him being the footballer for whom goals pay the rent more than any other, but that is the truth of the matter. It is a truth he knows.

And yet we didn’t need the second. We stood firm, didn’t give Wythenshawe’s finest an easy one for a second yellow, didn’t expose the goalkeeper repeatedly. The goalkeeper who got booked by the way for doing what every goalkeeper who comes to Anfield does from minute one.

Fuck it. The Big Nine was always about us versus them and us versus some of our own them. There is something inherently silly and, yes, angry about a lot of what we do. I fucking bristle every day. The Scousers. Something about leaving something on them. Something about it being our thing over and over and over again. Our lifeblood. Our bounce.

The Big Nine will do for me. See you now on the other side. If it goes wrong in any way, well at least you got to believe. More of that to come. So much more belief for us.

As for the idea that Newcastle United and Manchester United have third and fourth sewn up? You can stick your coronation up your arse.

All my love.

Home Monday.

Missed you. We should go dancing. Because under this manager I will always fancy them and you.

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