Why Opening Day of 2013-14 Premier League Season Is so Important to Liverpool
Hope: It builds you up, keeps you going and ultimately kills you off.
Optimism: Taking on board the positives of a situation, while acknowledging the flaws still in place.
It's tough at times, being a Liverpool supporter, to find the right balance between the two. Decades-old jokes about this is our year have long since palled, and yet, every middle-of-August, there's almost always plenty of points which will make fans tip the scales toward hope or optimism.
The start of a new Premier League season has fans filled with ideas and expectation, judging by the summer's transfer activity, the managerial changes—or, this season for Liverpool fans, lack of changes, for once—and the perceived strengthening of rivals.
Liverpool last went into a new season with expectation of success, rather than mere hope, in the 2009-10 campaign.
A strong finish to the previous year saw the Reds finish second, and there were plenty who expected them to finally, at last, take that extra step to go from runners up to actual champions.
Ninety minutes at White Hart Lane on the opening day of 09-10 was more than enough, though, to dispel any notions of that being the case. The Reds were run ragged, looked second best all over the park, and never really recovered from a poor start where they lost twice in the opening three games, finishing seventh that season.
Out went Rafa, in came Roy.
It's hard to say if there was hope or optimism that summer.
He didn't last, of course, as Liverpool suffered an even worse start to the season. Steady the ship was the message of why Hodgson was appointed, but if you steady a dreadfully performing ship, you get continued dreadful performances.
Improvement was needed, not steadying. Hodgson, indeed, steadied Liverpool to the tune of an opening day draw, then four defeats from the next seven games, including against both Everton and Manchester United.
Off he went, and in came the King. Hope was rekindled.
The Reds finished the season strongly but still only finished sixth—cue optimism—but a poor summer of transfers saw Liverpool display early season form in 2011-12 which would dictate their entire campaign: a draw, two wins, then two defeats. Not enough consistency (or ability in front of goal) cost the Reds so many points that season, and the drop down the table continued—Liverpool finished eighth.
Kenny Dalglish departed in the summer of 2012, and Brendan Rodgers was the man chosen to replace him.
Untried at the highest level, mistrusted by those who hadn't paid much attention to games outside the top six—or eight—and an unknown quantity with more money to spend in the transfer market, Rodgers had work to do from the get-go.
His manner of speaking, a firm idea of philosophy and planning, the backing of the board and some quick signings soon started to turn the tide, though. 4-3-3, passing football and a horde of youngsters involved in preseason, and before you knew it, optimism was back.
Fans knew Rodgers had a huge, massive, supersized task on his hand to turn the good ship Anfield around.
Steady it? No. This time it was about removing the scarred, battered outer layer, selecting the finest young timbers to form the basis of the new hull and putting faith in them, that they'd hold together when thrown in at the deep end.
Once the 2012-13 season started, three points were neither immediately nor regularly forthcoming, but the vast majority didn't panic. Optimism. There was work to be done, but it was getting done. The game was being played in a way that fans knew, trusted, remembered.
A few new star names shone out a little brighter, a few new faces showed they could contribute, and Luis Suarez blitzed everything in his path.
It wasn't an up-and-down year for Liverpool, it was down-and-up. Some good performances weren't always rewarded with three points before the turn of the year, but after it—and the arrivals of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho—the victories came with more regularity.
A strong second half of the season saw the Reds challenge higher up the table than they had a few months earlier, and, once again, seventh place was the ultimate finish.
So what of 2013-14?
More new faces, more expectation after a season of settling and more Suarez column-inches, albeit not for the same reasons.
Some Reds fans will be full of hope that more transfers are yet to be completed, possibly even giving Liverpool an entirely new left flank before the end of the month, and that those additions will bring enough quality to challenge at least two places higher.
Optimism is also rife, but where does it stop? Being optimistic that the Reds have done enough to compete in the top four? That Suarez-Sturridge-Coutinho will fire Liverpool into those heady heights? Or merely that this will be another season of improvement, overtaking at least Everton and possibly Arsenal?
There is undoubtedly a feel-good factor about the start of any new season, but it can often, in this instant-news-instant-opinion day and age, last precisely 90 minutes. Defeat at home to Stoke City would kill off much of the goodwill generated since January and would knock the players' belief in their own ability to improve their consistency. Even a draw can lead to damning thoughts of the here we go again ilk, despite the potential for refereeing error or a lack of fitness to main striker Sturridge possibly being key factors.
At least we know not calling a goal when the ball crosses the line shouldn't be a factor this year.
It's been five long years since Liverpool started a new season with an opening day victory. The 2008-09 campaign saw the Reds start with a win at Sunderland, and they went unbeaten in the Premier League that season right through to November.
That year, there was hope that the Reds would perform well, and huge optimism that they could win the league by the time April rolled around.
The sights are set somewhat lower right now, but a win over Stoke at Anfield on Saturday will rekindle hope that the Reds are at least on the right track, and will allow supporters to remain optimistic that Brendan Rodgers is the right man for Liverpool for a little while longer.
It could be a season to remember. Just don't let the expectancy weigh you down if things don't immediately go right.
Catch our live coverage of the opening league game, Liverpool vs. Stoke, from 12:30 (UK) / 7:30 (ET) right here on Saturday, August 17!
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