Opinion: Keeping your nerve

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It was meant to be the perfect way to finish a dull Saturday afternoon in January. A refreshing drink in a nicely central heated bar, with a mate providing intelligent football conversation, whilst we enjoyed the leadership and determination of Steven Gerrard, the industry of Mascherano, and the one-touch wizardry of Torres.

I was really looking forward to catching Stoke versus Liverpool. My heart had been credit crunched around a series of Midlands shopping malls, and I had spent too long in a Swedish furniture warehouse, whose name rhymes with ‘œWhy here?’

Why was I there? Although I was nicely insulated from the freezing weather, I was isolated from the Saturday afternoon football results. There was no mobile reception amongst the plastic furniture, futon beds, and endless rows of scented candles. It was a bland parallel universe, with no colour and no atmosphere.

This game was designed to lift my spirits. I had enjoyed the Newcastle versus Liverpool game over Christmas, and I was waiting for more of the same. I was with a companion who was proudly displaying his Liverpool home shirt, which was a proud Christmas present. I gathered in a drink, and the alarm bells were beginning to ring with the 4-4-1-1 formation. I got a sense that this game was the highlight of my friend’s day too.

It was early in the first half, when it became obvious that this game was going to be a slog for Liverpool. Playing a restrictive formation meant that there was no one in the box at those crucial moments of attack. Jokes and banter had littered the first half, as well as a large amount of discussion about my friend’s new home shirt. Half time was a more solemn affair.

Nothing really grabbed the imagination during the second half. There were many pleading hand gestures, as well as some screams of frustration when midfield appeared on a different pitch then the attack. The match became a bit of a trial. We did not deceive ourselves that Liverpool were playing well when Gerrard twice hit the wood of the goal posts. Torres seemed unfit. Keane was on the bench and Benitez seemed to be angry.

My friend was not that happy either, and I left him staring miserably at a range of baguettes that were filled with various forms of mayonnaise. Although I understand that this match was not the last of the season, the way that Liverpool played was hardly captivating. Stoke were barely riveting either but Liverpool seemed to have no answers. I was a bit shocked about what I saw, and needed the cheesy Dale Winton fondue of a National Lottery show to get this match out of my mind.

Things have moved on. I am now listening to media coverage, which has now apparently written off Liverpool from the title race. Regardless of the games in hand for Manchester United, the mind games, and the hype, Liverpool are still top of the league, and still leaders. There will be new matches, and further wins. Stoke versus Liverpool on Saturday 10th January 2009 could become a footnote in Liverpool’s football history.

This week’s match report could become next week’s fish and chip paper. The footage from the Britannia Stadium could end up on the cutting room floor when the season DVD is cut. This match could become a one line statistic in one of those books of charts and graphs, which are used by fans to bore the pub regulars with their knowledge of ‘˜goals conceded,’ and ‘˜shots on target.’

The title race is not over in January 2009, although it would help if Liverpool’s fans, managers and players were not pressing the self- destruct button. Rants against other managers are not going to win games. It is arguably not the ‘˜Liverpool way’ to launch into uncompromising anger about other teams.

I always believed Liverpool have always won the championship and their European trophies on the pitch with the power of their passing play. It would be wise for Liverpool to return to their old ways. I will then dispel this idea from my mind that Liverpool only win when Steven Gerrard has a decent game. I will also believe that a Keane and Torres partnership will work during a ‘˜real’ game rather than only on a tactics board or a games console.

Kenny Dalglish talked about Liverpool getting their focus back to winning this trophy that means so much for everyone connected with Liverpool football club. I hope that Liverpool rediscover their talent of playing with width, with a midfield that functions like a sleek Aston Martin rather than a backfiring Ford Escort. You have to hope that this case and the story of the 2008/2009 season will be about Liverpool becoming league champions rather than imploding.

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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