Liverpool: We've Been A Shadow Of Ourselves & Derby Felt Like A Loss
For those of you that pay attention to this kind of thing, I’m a little late aren’t I?
It wasn’t just the Derby that dragged me into an alcoholic haze for the rest of Saturday and meant that I didn’t write this as quickly as I normally would. It wasn’t just the late equaliser that felt like a loss that brought about Sunday’s hangover. I genuinely had other things to do (most of them celebratory) that meant two days were spent varying between lager and fragile, it wasn’t all down to Phil Jagielka scoring a goal that he will never hope to see the like of again. Certainly added to the whole thing though.
The advantage of writing tis on Monday morning with a clear head and some sense of reason rather than Saturday night with a skinful and far too much emotion is that you see the retain of others to the match that you watched.
Match of The Day relegated one of the two most important games of our season (the other is the rematch at Goodison) to fourth place in their broadcast. The national media is reporting it as a game suffering from a paucity of anything resembling quality. All of which goes to prove one thing and one thing only; the only people that can judge the standard of a Derby match (a real Derby match, two teams, the only two teams, in the same city) are those with a direct emotional stake.
So, as somebody with a direct emotional stake, how do I judge it?
Simple answer: Happy with the performance, gutted with the result. Liverpool haven’t been good so far this season, we haven’t been the force that we were last season, we haven’t had the creativity, haven’t had the unexpected. I engaged in a drunken argument with a fellow red, somewhere in the dregs of Saturday night. ‘We’re not missing Suarez’ I argued. ‘Bollocks’ he countered, quite reasonably ‘any team would miss Suarez’. ‘Yes, but he wouldn’t be here at the moment anyway’ I pointed out, ‘we’re missing Sturridge’. We’re missing Sturridge. You know where I stand on the whole missing Sturridge thing by now. Balotelli looks fine, Balotelli will do good things when he settles in but Balotelli wants to drift wide, wants to drop deep, wants to look for the ball. Balotelli doesn’t want to burst forward but Balotelli will chest a ball from nowhere and take a snap shot from thirty yards that nobody sees coming. Balotelli will do the stupid, the ridiculous, the bizarre but he needs Sturridge in the middle to pick up the pieces of the ridiculous and stick them in the back of the net.
We’ve other options though. That lad in the centre of the pitch? The one with the number 8 on his back? The one that everybody’s slagging off, the one that you’re all claiming is finished? He knows what you’re saying and he’s going to put you right. He did it on Saturday. Again. He pulled another world class free kick out of the bag. Again. Because that’s what he does, what he’s always done and always will do. Just as the little blue section in the corner of the Anfield Road started singing that little song about slipping and giving it to Demba Ba that all the smaller teams (and all teams are smaller than Liverpool, it doesn’t matter what you say, add up all the trophies ALL the trophies, you’re all less than us, deal with the fact) seem to love, Gerrad stepped up and shut them up. Again. And 40,000 people sang the real words. “Ste Gerrard? He’s big and he’s f***ing hard” - try not to forget it again.
There were others. Lallana. Lallana’s going to be some player. Fantastic feet. The back line were fine, Sterling was Sterling, Markovic put in a shift without achieving much but he’s 20 and in a new country with a new language. Don’t know about you but at 20 I was working in a supermarket five minutes walk from my house and speaking exactly the same language as all my mates. He’ll be fine. I hope he’ll be fine.
Moreno. Moreno dealt with Lukaku all day. Lukaku doing that right wing thing that Martinez likes to play agains the teams above him, that right wing thing that drops Naismith into the false nine role and here, today, Saturday, had no effect at all. Moreno rarely lost Lukaku, it was only when Bobby brought on some kid at right back that had the entire red section of Anfield going “who?” that the tactic worked.
The new kid at right back, looks a player that kid, loses Moreno in the 93rd minute by tucking back on his left and slinging a ball in. Chaos reigns, the ball breaks free and Phil Jagielka, subject of as much criticism as Gerrard this season, appears from nowhere and hits an ‘absolute worldie’. Hits the kind of ball that most days goes over the bar and sometimes over the roof of the Kop.
Not today though. Today (the day when Gareth Barry should have been off the pitch after twenty minutes, the day when Mario hits the ball off Howard and over the bar when he should have buried it, a day when Martin Atkinson doesn’t give a penalty for a handball that 40,000 other people saw as clear as day), today it hits the back of the net like a bullet.
Cues despair for those in red, cue those in blue celebrating like they’d won the World Cup. And that’s okay, that’s how we reacted when Sturridge equalised at their place last year.
And that’s why the opinion of anybody outside the two clubs’ fans doesn’t count. You have no idea what it means. You think you do, you think you can compare it to your Arsenal vs Spurs or Newcastle vs Sunderlands. You can’t. There’s no similarity. You can’t understand how it feels to live in the same house as somebody who’s still celebrating their equaliser three days later as though it happened five minutes ago. We can. It’s what we do. It’s what we have to live with until the next time.
The league table? Not a clue. Not even looked at it. Don’t know any other results from the weekend. The Derby’s not about the league. The Derby’s about the Derby.
And this one felt like a loss.