So here we go then. Another Champions League final. Still feels like a figment of my imagination to be honest. We’ve discussed it in the office, we have prepared all our shows and yet still it doesn’t feel real. I’m sure on Friday night when I can’t sleep and will inevitably feel like a kid on Christmas eve my perspective will have changed somewhat. And then of course Saturday will be spent pacing around the house, being emotionally on edge and probably being irrational with family members just to comfort myself.
If I’m being truthful, it shouldn’t be like that. This season has been emotionally draining for us all, we have been on a spectacular roller-coaster for the past ten months. It has been breathtaking, stressful, tense, glorious and everything in-between.
To make matters worse, or better depending on how you look at it some of us have essentially been following two teams for a large portion of the season. As if we weren’t already going through the spectrum of emotions enough. I will happily admit I didn’t watch all of the Manchester City games but I did watch a fair few towards the end. I think the majority are with me. You know how it went “This could be the one, maybe. A draw will do. City must be tired.” Feel free to add any more clichés.
Anyway for the bulk of these games it was short lived. It could be ten minutes into a game and you knew it was over. Time, emotion and hope wasted. At least in the fans minds. Not the players though, time after time they overcame pressure, tough opponents and difficult situations to secure three points and keep the title race alive. People bang on about City being a well-oiled machine, pun fully intended, and rightly so. But so are this Liverpool side.
I think it has been difficult to appreciate this side at times, despite achieving the third highest points tally in Premier League history. And that’s not because they have been poor or anything of the sorts. It’s for everything I mentioned before. I don’t think I have been through a season like that in my life. But that’s what a title challenge brings. Yes, it tests the players but it tests us as fans too.
I have seen so much growth in Jürgen’s “Mentality Monsters” it is unreal. There has been little time to fully appreciate them as it has been so erratic going from a Premier League game, pipping teams by a goal, being emotionally drained and then within a matter of days switching the mindset to a Champions League game. Losing three away games in the group stages and almost just seeing the competition as a free hit. How wrong was I?
It has been such a mental season and as mentioned this side has grown immensely in just a matter of months. Summer signings Naby Keita and Fabinho hardly hit the ground running and impatience got the better of some fans and understandably a little frustration. We should all know better by now. Jürgen knows the score, let’s leave him to it.
We have a plethora of quality in this side, proper characters, a unity which resonates from the players, the manager and the fans. We have gone from scraping fourth place with the remanence of a declining Brendan Rodgers side to becoming leaders among men, title challengers and a dominant force in Europe not to be fucked with.
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Reaching back to back Champions League finals is some achievement. The less said about last year’s final the better in my opinion but getting there was special. The memories, the songs, the euphoria all played a spectacular part in our lives. Yes, it may have been marred by soft lad having a brain fart or two but that doesn’t mean you can’t acknowledge the enormity of what we accomplished. To do it all again is special. We had lost to PSG, Napoli and Red Star, fucking Red Star, and all hope was lost.
We had to rely on another special European night at Anfield to drag us through. That and the players, obviously. As we found out plenty of times prior to this game and many more after, this team just don’t know when they are done. Giving up isn’t in their minds, it’s not in their vocabulary.
Fast forward to Munich and I was still probably taking this competition for granted. Munich have huge European pedigree which is certainly more recent than ours. I didn’t fancy our chances, recent draws to West Ham and Leicester left a minority of fans deflated. Going into the game van Dijk was suspended, Lovren injured himself at Wolves not warming up properly, Matip had been out for a while, meaning to had to put together a make shift back four. Sound.
I still can’t fathom how and why Bayern set up the way they did and the only conclusion I can think of is fear. Fear of getting absolutely shafted. That’s all I can think of. It’s almost impossible to comprehend from fear of sounding arrogant or cocky but sides around Europe don’t want to play us. Our record, or Jürgen’s rather, in two-legged ties is astonishing. It’s no wonder they don’t fancy us.
Despite this, I vividly remember going into that second leg off the back of draws to Everton and United of all people and just thinking I can’t be arsed with this now. Bayern were surely going to up their game and I just wanted it all to be over. And before you think it, I’m not one of these turbo-nonces that thinks Klopp should leave, wE sHoUlD hAvE sIgNeD fEkIr bell whiffs or someone who believes the world will end if we get a draw. I’m actually pretty optimistic.
Again, I should know better. We went the Allianz and knocked Bayern right on their arse. This was the night; this was when I was all aboard the Champions League train once again. Sign me right up for more European memories.
Porto seems a distant memory now. But still epitomises the mentality of this Liverpool side. Nerves crept in for me. “Yeah we battered them last year, but they are a different side now” just to make myself feel better if it went tits up. Nah these boys though, they had a taste of the final and the smelt blood.
Barcelona was the complete and utter mind fuck. 3-0 felt harsh and still does. Although it is pretty irrelevant now. You know, because we’ve got big Div. I’ve watched it more or less every day since. The goals, the content, the YNWA after, fan reactions, everything. Another famous European night at Anfield and arguably the best.
The point of this article was to reflect on how good this side is, the best Liverpool side I have witnessed in my life. I haven’t had chance to do so before now and it is an utter joy to support this team. Granted, we’ve seen some absolute dross pass through the doors of Melwood. You know exactly who I’m talking about too. Charlie Adam, Paul Konchesky, Bruno Cheyrou, Igor Biscan. I could go on.
This feels different, this feels special, this isn’t a flash in the pan like 13/14. This side is the bollocks and they are here to stay.
Since Kiev we have not only added quality but we have added a winning mentality, versatility and we have continued to grow even towards the very end of the season. The players have developed their roles. Hendo has become, dare I say it, a fan favourite. Maybe he was decent all that time eh? Maybe he just had a no-frills, dirty and insipid job to do breaking up play and recycling possession.
I digress, whatever is thrown at this side they overcome it. I have compared being in Kiev last year for the players to a driving test for us mere mortals. It’s one of the most nerve wracking experiences of your life and it’s supposed to be. Excitement, nerves and tension can get the better of you and you fall to shit. Then you go again determined to do better, to overcome the emotions and just get the job done. You’ve been through the process, you know what to expect and you just smash it out the park.
The lads that went to Kiev will be feeling something similar. There is no fear, there is no tension. They went through all the motions of media days, training camps and of course, the final. They went to Kiev boys. They go to Madrid men.
Losing that final will spur them on, again pun fully intended, especially in the manner they did. Klopp mentioned it in his press conference, we weren’t exactly shite. Yes, we were beat by a very good side, with one very good goal and two brain farts. But that doesn’t mean it is the end of us.
We are hungry for this. We are so much better equipped than last season. We have players that can play multiple positions. We have a plan if someone gets injured, we have options, we have a squad. Something we were miles off last season. Bringing the likes of Lallana, who I’m convinced wasn’t fit on to replaces Mo wasn’t great. Now we are much better equipped. Not only that we have developed a different style of play this season. A more controlled and mature system in which we are able to destroy teams mentally by keeping possession or adapt to playing on the counter. We are able to change formation and still look comfortable. 4-3-3 seems to be the order of the day but it wasn’t that long ago it was 4-2-3-1.
Fabinho has made the six his own, which has freed Hendo to a more advanced role and somehow reverted him to 13/14 form. Big Div does what he wants, van Dijk and Matip have been rock-solid and our full backs are truly incredible. There has been a buzz around the city in recent days which has been a result of Jürgen and his boys being the business.
I’m sure Spurs fans will be thinking something similar, they have had some amazing results and performances along the way, but that doesn’t change my mind set. It’s ok to be confident. It’s ok to have faith in your side. We are fans it’s our fucking job.
We may go to Madrid ‘the favourites’ but that won’t be in the players’ minds. There’s a job to do. A trophy to bring home.
Wherever you are watching it, enjoy it, soak it up. This side is incredible.
Ross – @rossic89