Wednesday 1 February 2017

Liverpool 1 - Chelsea 1 - Some thoughts...

This was exactly what we wanted to see. After possibly the worst week under Klopp where the dreams of a sustaining a title challenge were dashed, and we exited both domestic cup competitions we just wanted to see some fight, a better performance and a bit of guile.

If we'd ended the last week having beaten Swansea, reached Wembley and made it through to the next round of the FA Cup then this point would look incredible.

There was the usual ridiculous overreaction and short term idiocy associated with modern media and football supporters in the last week. We need to remember just how far we have come in a relatively short space of time. 6 out of the last 7 seasons I think we have finished below Spurs and outside of the top 4. The fact that Klopp still had us dreaming about a title past Christmas is testament to the work he has done - all having made a profit on players!

We also need to remember just how good the other sides around us are this year. Arsenal, Spurs and ourselves have got their highest points totals at this time of the season for years and years. Chelsea are just a different level, it's virtually impossible to get near them. And tonight they showed that. Without being brilliant they were easily the best side to come to Anfield this season, defensively solid, gnarly and difficult to play against, a constant threat.

But we were equal to it - we weren't brilliant either but we FOUGHT. The toothless feel up front that has been a signature of 2017 still lingers, but we found an equalising goal from somewhere and a great goal it was too. Firminho should have scored, undoubtedly, but players miss sitters, it happens.
What can you say about Chelsea's first goal? It was a world class free kick but a premier league goal keeper should not take his eye off a dead ball like that. I don't care whether he heard the whistle or not. Mignolet has been brilliant since he came back but it is because of those big errors that he just can't be our long term first choice keeper.

Of course he made up for it with a wonderful penalty save and that should be celebrated, regardless of the mistake for the first goal he rescued a point for us (and him) in the end. When a keeper makes a mistake like that, best you can ask for is that they redeem themselves.

There will be a slight feeling of "what if..." about the game. Could we have got the 3 points? Especially with Arsenal losing and Spurs drawing but this is a great point, that's all there is to it. We are still well in the fight for Top 4 and that was THE target for this season.

The crowd turned up tonight and the team  turned up as well, that is all we can ask for.

I'll leave you with words from the boss himself and the "exchange" he had with a "supporter" behind the dugout...

Klopp explained: “One back pass pass. We had it in the last game already. If we don't play possession football tonight then it's ping pong.

We played high pressure so Chelsea does it smart, played a few long balls. If we do the same we all have a stiff neck after the game.

“That means we played football and sometimes you play a back pass. I then hear in this moment 'nahh, nahhh, nahhh'. In the last game we actually turned the wrong moment and played a pass in this direction. So I say keep your nerves please."

Yes. Keep your nerves please. I Klopp we trust.

Sunday 22 January 2017

Liverpool 2 - Swansea 3 - Some reflections

We deserved this. We all deserved this. Klopp asked for an atmosphere, he had delivered a rallying cry. We didn't deliver and in turn they didn't deliver. Early kick offs can be sluggish to get started at the best of times, but the Anfield crowd sat back from 12:30pm and expected to see us roll over bottom of the league Swansea. We should know by now that football doesn't work like that. The Liverpool players responded in kind, Lovren and Klavan exchanging about 7 passes in a row within the first 60 seconds. This was the sort of game (and Swansea the sort of side) crying out for a fast start, surprise them, get amongst them, worry them. Instead we sat back, knocked the ball about and probed gently. I’m all for patient build up but there was no cutting edge, no urgency, no surges, no changes of pace.

Even Klopp seemed content to let the half pass him by, sitting back slumped in his “bucket seat” and if I’m not mistaken not raising himself to offer instruction or cajole from the technical area once. With such slumber on the pitch and the bench, you could hardly expect there to be much noise from the stands.

Who am I to doubt Klopp? He knows more about football than I do about hangovers, but I couldn't help think he got it wrong with the line up. Against a team which we knew would sit back and without Mane we needed as much pace and attacking intent as we could get and for me playing Lallana in the front three and then Henderson, Can and Wijnaldum in midfield just seemed too defensive and a waste. Lallana is capable enough in the front three, but he has been a revelation in midfield and by putting another out and out forward up there in his place, like Sturridge, I think we'd have had more threat and more guile and therefore a better chance of unlocking the Swansea door. Henderson, Can and Wijnaldum seemed to just get in each other's way most of the time, perhaps there is a need for two out of the three, but surely not all three? With Swansea offering so little in attack, the centre backs dealt with long balls easily enough, would collect the ball, knock it 5 yards to Can, who would then mostly look up, knock it another 5 yards to Henderson who would spray it wide to Clyne or Milner. It seemed completely pointless. And the graphic from the BBC below showing average player position would seem to collaborate that, with Can, Henderson and Winjnaldum all overlapping. 
Liverpool v Swansea average positions

Our best chance of the half did indeed fall to Can, with Henderson swinging a beautiful ball in and Can arriving perfectly onto it only to head it wide. That was on ten minutes, and you hoped that it might spring us all into life, but we fell back into the pattern of patient probing and the half ended with only half chances to speak of. Swansea were well organised, as expected, but you hoped some words from Klopp at half time would energise us and surely this would be one of those games which would eventually end with us getting on top and netting one or two. 

There were no changes at half time, which disappointed me a little, but I can understand when a manager wants to give the 11 he has sent out another ten minutes to carry out his half time instruction. However it wasn't any half time words from Klopp that woke us up but 5 minutes of madness which ended with Swansea 2 nil up. Their first goal was scrappy and the 2nd sloppy as Llorente rose well to head home, but you felt that he shouldn't have been allowed that opportunity. 

Only then did it look like we gave a shit and on came Sturridge - finally. Although he had been getting readied by Klopp before the 2nd Swansea goal went in, now he was needed more than ever. It was in fact Firminho who got us back in it with two brilliant goals and then with 20 minutes to go you felt it was going to end one way. But we still struggled to break down the wall of white and lacked imagination. Sturridge gets some stick when he comes on for "not doing much" and not moving enough, but he makes decent enough runs and he always shows for the ball, but he just wasn't getting played any decent passes. This is another reason I'd have liked to have seen Lallana in midfield with Henderson, both of whom have the ability to unlock a defence with a clever ball. Our default move appeared to be the ball out wide and then put a cross in. It's a move that has it's place, but can be easy enough to defend against and we needed much more variation in our attacking play.

Then of course came the hammer blow, Tom Caroll simply ran and ran through midfield and at our defence and we couldn't seem to deal with it. Fraser for Bournemouth anyone? He beat Lovren easily before Klavan desperately stuck a foot in only for it to break to Sigurdsson who reacted first and slotted the ball home. 

This was a disastrous result, there is no other way of describing it. After a relatively poor run since the turn of the year our title hopes were already fading and this could well be a nail in their coffin. I'm writing this having seen Arsenal win with a late late penalty against Burnley and Chelsea have just gone one nil up against Hull. Spurs and City sharing a point was the best we could hope for and now it looks like we face a fight to secure top 4. Yes we have to play Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea all at Anfield and we still have City away as well, which could be seen as positive as there is a lot to play for still, but equally if we don't get good results in those big games, goodness knows where we might find ourselves. 

But I am going to remain positive. We have Matip back to sure up our defence and Firminho will hopefully have found some form having scored that brace. We are still in both cup competitions and as I've just referenced at least a lot still lies in our own hands when it comes to the league. You cannot imagine that Klopp will let this result lie and I can see us reacting well, firstly against Southampton in the league cup semi final and then in the crucial game against Chelsea.

It might feel hugely disappointing to have virtually thrown away our title chances with such a poor display, but we should keep a sense of perspective. After the last few years of no silverware and disappointing league finishes, to be back in the top 4 and the Champion's League next season would be real progress. 
Liverpool v Swansea average positions

Monday 7 November 2016

Time to believe...

It was 1.45pm on Sunday the 6th of November and Arsenal and Spurs had just played put a 1-1 draw, 2 points dropped for both sides whichever way they looked at it. Not only that but Man City had dropped points the day before. Of the leading pack only Chelsea had gained ground with a comprehensive 5 nil win over Everton.

Liverpool were playing Watford at Anfield in a 2.15pm kick off. Win and we went top.
"This is exactly the sort of game we'll lose" I said to myself. The old cliché. I even messaged my mates What's App group saying "Win and go top. Cue a 1 nil defeat."

Despite having seen Jurgen Klopp's rejuvenated Liverpool side tearing teams apart all season, scoring goals for fun, beating Arsenal and Chelsea in their own back yards, I still couldn't believe. For the older generation who actually saw us win leagues my attitude might seem incredibly defeatist but despite having witnesses Istanbul and a cup treble, a few FA Cups, pessimism is still ingrained in me. 

I have also witnessed us throw away a 3 nil lead at Palace, Gerrard slip right in front of me as I stood on the Kop. I've lived through years of Man Utd dominance. I've never witnessed us win the league. My brain just isn't trained to expect Liverpool to succeed, not in the league.

Well now it's time for me to believe, for us all to believe. We didn't just beat Watford to go top, we annihilated them. Strangely enough they actually had their moments, more so than Hull earlier in the season. But even so, it could have been 8 or 9.

We even had a so called "make shift" centre back in the form of Lucas Leiva coming in for the ill Lovren against a physical Watford side and Troy Deeney who supposedly loved bullying Martin Skrtel so much. Barely got a sniff did he?

Going forward we were sensational and I mean actually sensational. A word that is over used. Our new slightly nervy looking keeper looks to be growing into it and Henderson is becoming the top class midfielder and captain that a lot of us have always known her could be.

At 5 nil Klopp was still furious, demanding more. He is relentless, just like his team. There is still so much to improve on still and that is what makes it so exciting. You get the feeling that we haven't reached our best yet. 

Klopp eats, sleeps and breathes winning. And now so do his team. And that is why we have to believe. Get on board... there will undoubtedly be pain and heartbreak again but my God it's going to be fun. Rock & Roll football? It's going to be one hell of a tour. Buy your ticket now.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Why Liverpool fans must fight for justice for Orgreave

Liverpool fans know all about injustice. For years we have had to fight the smears, stereotypes and vicious lies around Hillsborough and the death of 96 fans. Listened to by very few, and completely ignored by the authorities and the establishment, it is only recently that finally the truth has been properly exposed.

Just this week those involved in another injustice and have had a blow dealt to their own quest for truth and one that is intrinsically linked to Hillsborough - Orgreave. For those who don't know "the battle of Orgreave" as it was known was when tensions reached their highest during the miners strike of the 1984. And Thatcher's methods of "dealing with" the campaigning miners reached its most brutal and underhand. Robert East, writing in the Journal of Law and Society in 1985, suggested that rather than maintaining order and upholding the law, "the police intended that Orgreave would be a 'battle' where, as a result of their preparation and organisation, they would 'defeat' the pickets."[16] Michael Mansfield QC said: "They wanted to teach the miners a lesson – a big lesson, such that they wouldn't come out in force again."

On the day Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Clement ordered a mounted charge against the picketing miners. It was seen as "a serious overreaction" and the miners responded by throwing stones and other missiles at the police lines.[6] Clement ordered 2 further mounted advances, and the third advance was supported by "short shield" snatch squads who followed the mounted police, "delivering baton beatings to the unarmed miners."[6][18]

There were no fatalities but the brutality and lack of restraint shown by the police that day is widely acknowledged. It would be wrong to compare Orgreave directly with the Hillsborough disaster and no campaigners on either side have ever tried to do so but what links them is that the police force responsible that day; South Yorkshire Police.  The force that 5 years later were responsible for the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans and that then went on the smear the 96 families and actively  cover up their inadequacies and incompetence. 

The injustices of both Hillsborough and Orgreave also share the fact that they are underlined by an attack and disdain towards the working class by Thatcher's right wing government and the elite.
The miners and campaigners for Orgreave have always stood side by side with Liverpool fans and the Hillsborough families, especially when so few others would.

I know my own friend and United Union activist and campaigner for Orgreave marched with miners, Hillsborough families and fellow supporters in Liverpool as the campaign for justice reached it's height in 2015 and many others have done the same.

Yet this week the current Tory government has ruled that there will be no fresh enquiry into the actions of South Yorkshire Police that day. They have cited the reason that "it was too long ago for any lessons to be learned." Yet Lessons can be learnt from Hillsborough which occurred just 5 years later? It is an utter disgrace and a blatant shirking of the truth. I suspect that they know further enquiries into the motives and actions of that Thatcher government and the South Yorkshire police will be so unsavoury they can't possibly risk them being exposed.

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis has said: "Given the substantial concerns that exist, it is astonishing that the Home Secretary will not commit to an inquiry or review." And the current South Yorkshire Police Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said he was "shocked and dismayed" by the decision.

He added: "The government have marched the Campaign for Truth and Justice to the top of the hill only to march them down again.

"No one has ever suggested that the events of Orgreave were comparable in every respect to the disaster at Hillsborough. But the former miners and the former mining communities in South Yorkshire deserve an explanation as to what happened on that day and where Orgreave fits in the wider story of the miners' strike."

Considering the parallels of injustice and the level to which the same authorities and government were involved in both Hillsborough and Orgreave it is vital that Liverpool fans now show their solidarity and support for the Orgreave campaigners. They were there for us and we should be there for them. This is an issue with transcends football and regions and becomes an issue for those who believe in justice, equality and accountability.

To support the fight for justice visit follow The Orgreave Justice campaign on Twitter and Facebook.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Basel Diary - A Week On

The story of me as a Liverpool fan is a strange one. We'll, not that strange, in fact it's probably fairly common. Born in Bath and brought up in a nondescript town in rural Wiltshire I had absolutely no connection with Liverpool whatsoever. My early exposure to football was through my Dad, watching World Cup 94 on telly, the playground at school and the likes of Match magazine. My Dad couldn't have been further from a pushy Dad if he tried, he always had a laissez faire attitude to what I should be interested in or good at, but I was aware that his affinity to Bristol Rovers and to some extent Southampton having worked there. But through magazines and TV I had begun to feel affinity to a team in red… I don't know what it was but I remember being fascinated by John Barnes and also a skinny curly haired player, a bit like me, Steve McManaman. My Dad must have noticed that I had become attracted to Liverpool because I distinctly remember asking him who I should support, almost begging him to say Bristol Rovers, knowing that was “the done thing.” But he just said “support who you like.” So I did. I became obsessed. I collected cuttings and Liverpool magazines, I collected those weird big headed player models, I read up on Liverpool as much as I could. I’ll never forget how gutted I was when we lost to Utd in the 96 cup final.

Sunday 14 February 2016

Exeter Away - 2016

This account first appeared in Red All Over The Land fanzine issue 220.

I don’t care what anyone says about the FA Cup having lost its magic, when the 3rd round draw comes around I still get a bit of a buzz. Who are Liverpool going to get? A tough Premier League or Championship meeting or a minnow? Home or Away? When we were drawn away at Exeter the fixture pricked my interest for a few reasons. Firstly I have family in that part of the world so it felt somehow familiar and it also got me wondering about actually being able to get to the game. Living back down in Wiltshire now unlike for the majority of Liverpool fans it didn’t feel like a particularly lengthy trip. I immediately text my mate Joff, a fellow south west resident and old regular match going mate, both home and away. Our last away had been around two years ago, a glorious trip to Southampton to see Suarez in his peak and when we started to believe that the title really was a possibility. Joff was keen, obviously.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Accepting The Inevitable - RAOTL Issue 217

This article first appeared in Issue 217 of Red All Over The Land

I am writing this during one of the turgid international “breaks” that we have become accustomed to. England were outclassed in a friendly by Spain. No one was surprised. No one on the red side of Liverpool cared.