Liverpool FC : Come In Number 19, Your Time Is (Hopefully) Up!
Okay, hands up who thought after seven games that Liverpool would be sitting joint top of the lofty perch that Sir Alex Ferguson so famously knocked them off?
Sorry for the pause, I had both of my hands up and couldn't carry on typing, forgive me.
Did I think Liverpool would beat Manchester United at Anfield? Yes. Especially when I saw Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard sitting on the bench, and I'll tell you why.
I knew that the players had to bond, immediately and play as one. That afternoon I witnessed a togetherness from the moment Carlos Tevez strode forward unmarked and caressed the ball wide of Pepe Reina, despite the Mark Wright-esque last ditch efforts of Slovakian centre back, Martin Skrtel.
Fans' heads did not go down, there were a few moans and groans of "here we go again" but every single one sang louder and more passionately as the game went on, possibly forcing the error out of Edwin Van Der Sar (or was it Edwin Collins?) to draw level.
Albert Riera was looking dangerous on his debut against the same team he made his Premiership debut against in the colours of Manchester City, prompting the "lucky charm" tag and to be honest it might well have been true.
I remember that day so well, when Robbie Fowler scored the goal that endeared him to City supporters as much as the Liverpool faithful and ran to the fans who had entered a state of pandemonium giving it the five times sign.
Dirk Kuyt was faultless, Robbie Keane chased down Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand like a man possessed, and Javier Mascherano began to get over his early mistake and completely own the game. A friend of mine once said of Mascherano, "It's as if he takes it as a personal offence when the opposition has the ball."
Wise words, but said friend also reckoned that "Torres has no left foot" as we drove home from Marseille's Stade Velodrome, having witness Torres explode onto the Champions League scene with a goal that sent the travelling Kop bouncing around like 4000 Scouse Jack in the Boxes!
Fast forward to the Goodison derby this year with "El Nino"—on a self described "slump"—silencing the Toffees supporters with two absolute quality strikers, only to be harshly denied a hat-trick as it seemed Dirk Kuyt didn't want to wait until the end of the match to swap shirts.
The only "big team" that Torres has not scored past a little into his second season is Manchester United, and he has only had two bites of Sir Alex's bright red cherry nose at the time of writing.
A coming of age for the Liverpool side came at around 4.10 pm, Sunday 5th October 2008 after trailing 2-0 at Eastlands to an ever improving Manchester City side. Rafa Benitez produced another one of those rousing half time team talks that only he seems to be able to perform (See Olympiacos, AC Milan, Luton, West Ham etc.) and when Torres went for his hat trick in the final minutes of injury time, the ball trickled off Robbie Keane and there was no player more deserving to be a match winner than Dirk Kuyt, smashing the ball into the roof of the net—sending those that made the short trip into a sense of rapture.
For once it made everyone turn to one another and say "Blimey, maybe...just maybe."
Liverpool would be top of the league if Steven Gerrard's "phantom goal" against Stoke City had stood, and our goal difference would have been a tad better off too, but surely this blemish added to such a performance.
Now I must turn back to Dirk Kuyt here, I admire his steely determination and athleticism, his stamina levels are second to none, and more often than not after shouting in despair I have had a mate tell me, "You know what you get with Dirk, 100% effort."
Realistically I would like a flairy winger who can terrorise defences whilst scoring and assisting for fun but I must concede this; Kuyt is growing on me game by game. He must be a manager's delight.
With players like Kuyt, Mascherano, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Hyypia, Gerrard, and Keane all willing to put their bodies on the line for the club, Rafa has not only built a steady ship but an armada ready to win any battle put before him.
This Liverpool squad can finally be described as a team, with Skrtel's injury allowing ball playing centre back Daniel Agger a reprieve, there seems to be players who can step up and do well all around the pitch (Andrea Dossena and Philip Degen take note, and, ahem, Mr Degen, if I ever have the pleasure to serve you again, maybe you should order a diet drink and just one bag of Maltesers next time, and possibly clean away your mess at the end of the performance...I bet Steve Finnan would have!!)
All in all a promising season looks on the cards and it's not about winning the league this year, it's about challenging.
That's all we ask.
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