Kopblog: We Have Our Swagger Back

Whilst we tidy up a few things and revamp Kopblog, enjoy Joseph Cousins’ blog post today focusing on the sheer confidence that is flowing through Liverpool right now.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 16, 2014: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard celebrates scoring the second goal against Manchester United from the penalty spot during the Premiership match at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)
Gerrard has been in inspirational form for Liverpool of late. Photo: David Rawcliffe/Propaganda.

Swagger. The word maybe means slightly different things to different people. For me, swagger on the football pitch is when a player or team is supremely confident in everything they do. Self-belief is total. There is no fear and no doubts. The players express themselves. No matter whom the opposition is or what the situation is. For me, a key sign of a real quality side is when this swagger is shown away from home.

I grew up watching Liverpool exhibit this swagger routinely. My first memory of being a Liverpool fan is watching the reds on TV during the 87/88 season. I remember we’d just brush teams aside, seemingly with ease. We were better than the opposition, we knew it, and they knew it. Gradually though this disappeared. The declined became apparent after Kenny resigned in 1991 and we started getting results that were a real shock to the system. 3-1 defeat away to Luton. 3-1 beating at QPR, 4-2 loss at Stamford Bridge. I followed all of these results on teletext, thinking there must be some kind of mistake. My team didn’t take beatings like this. The last away game that season, away to Nottingham Forest, live on ITV. We got stuffed 2-1 and it could have been worse. We lost the title. We also lost our swagger and I don’t think we’ve regained it until this season.

Don’t get me wrong we have had success between February 1991 and this season. Cup wins, European success. We had some great results like beating Real Madrid 4-0 and a very good Manchester United team 4-1 at Old Trafford. These successes showed some excellent tactical play, great defending and ruthless finishing. But I always thought something was missing. Even in seasons 2005-06 and 2008-09 where we put some excellent results together, and challenged for a title, we didn’t have that swagger. Not in my opinion. I don’t remember Liverpool playing teams off the park away from home in either of these seasons. I remember the team winning with efficiency and control or doing a job and beating teams on the counter attack.

In the early Premier League era, United of course showed the swagger. They murdered sides and always just looked far superior to everyone else. I fucking hated them, more so back then than I do now so I didn’t really appreciate their swagger. Cantona was probably the epitome of swagger but again I couldn’t stand him so didn’t appreciate it. I was a fan of any team that looked like they could beat United to the title. Hoping they’d win every game with the exception of games against us just so that United would win fuck all. As we know this didn’t happen often. Aston Villa challenged briefly one year but was never really serious. Blackburn was a functional side. Newcastle did have the swagger at times but were fragile mentally. It wasn’t until Arsene Wenger went to Arsenal where I saw a team that wasn’t Man United play with true swagger. When Arsenal and United were going for the title, I’d watch Arsenal matches willing them to win as if I was a goner – thoroughly impressed with their swagger. They’d beat good teams away from home with ease. I remember them beating Leeds 4-0 at Elland Rd when Leeds were a good side. Most impressive was them going to Old Trafford and playing United off the park. They did that often between 1998 and 2004. I was well jealous. We’d won a few games at Old Trafford but they were 1-0 jobs. Score from a set piece and defend for our lives. Arsenal were dominating possession and carving United apart on their pitch. I’ve often wondered if we would get that again from Liverpool.

Everyone has their own preferences about what enjoy the most from football. I’ve always liked pretty football – passing, dribbling, skill. Think Brazil 1982, Liverpool 87-88, Arsenal 98-04, Barca under Pep.

When Brendan Rodgers was first appointed and began speaking about his philosophies I got quite excited. I’d read several articles on tiki taka, pressing, 4-3-3 formation etc and thought we could be in for something special. But then after a few months – say around November 2012. I started to think Brendan was all talk. There was no pressing, no penetration and we were easy to beat. I felt as if I had been charmed by his bull shit. But since January 2013 we’ve been a good side. An since 7th December 203 – for me – we’ve taken it to the next level and now play with a real swagger.

West Ham were brushed aside. We then played Spurs off the park at White Hart Lane – a stadium where we’ve had a poor run in recent years. We could have easily run up a Rugby score. The next game was against Cardiff and it’s this performance that convinced me we were capable of some breath taking football. For the first 60 minutes we played the best football I’ve seen from a Liverpool side since 1988. That vein of form has continued for the most part. We lost to Chelsea and City but played well. We dropped points against West Brom and before that Aston Villa but bounced straight back. We’ve now won 6 straight for the first time in 8 years, scoring 24 goals. Incredible.

The team impresses me on so many levels. When they go a goal down or concede an equaliser they don’t panic. The fans get anxious but the players don’t. They just confidently play their football, probing, passing, creating. There is no fear. Against Arsenal in the Cup we were in a situation where we are losing away to the league leaders. Their fans are well up for it. The atmosphere is hot. In the past we’d find such a situation extremely difficult. But this time we were still confident, passed the ball, worked openings, created clear chances. Missed chances, came again with the patient probing. Got robbed by Howard Webb. Came again with the good football. We lost but I was very impressed with the performance.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 17, 2013: Liverpool's goalkeeper Simon Mignolet celebrates with team-mate Kolo Toure after his last minute penalty save secured his side's 1-0 victory over Stoke City and putting his side top of the Premier League during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In the build up to the United game I was reading all the comments from fans on forums, Twitter etc. Most people were saying that this would be a very difficult game. That they will be up for it. Their crowd would be up for it. Rooney was back in form etc. One of my best mates said he was worried we’d get a hiding. Seriously.

I wondered what Manchester United everyone had been watching all season because the one I had watched were shite. Apparently though the form book would go out the window. Bollocks would it. I had predicted, seriously and sensibly predicted, a 4-1 win to us. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was if United would get the 1 goal or not. I had a lot of people on twitter telling me to be serious because that’s not the way it works. What the fuck do you mean that’s not the way it works. United are shit. We’re mustard. We’ll win by a big score. Too simple a concept I suppose. Only it wasn’t.

We took the field at Old Trafford believing we were the superior side. The players didn’t get caught up in the rivalry. They just did their jobs. The pressing, harrying, remaining positionally disciplined off the ball. When they got the ball, they kept it, worked the angles, remained patient, slowly created chances. United could not get near us. The player who epitomised our swag was Sturridge. He’d get the ball, hold it up, dribble with it for a bit, looking up all the while, teasing the nearest defender to come and challenge for it. While he’s doing this I’m worried he will lose possession and we then get hit on the counter. Daniel isn’t worried one iota though. He’s waiting for the best passing option and if it isn’t there he’ll keep it. Eventually he’ll pass it off to a team mate. Get it back and do the same thing again. It’s wonderful and calms everyone down especially when we’re winning and the opposition want to work up a head of steam.

Gerrard takes a penalty under extreme pressure and says. I’ll just slot this in the top corner and strut back to the centre circle because that is what I do. Swag.

I watched the entire game while standing in my living room. Shouting at the telly. As if I was Brendan. (My 3 year old daughter found this very amusing and joined in). Even though we were far superior, I’m always worried when we play United. Such is my dislike for them. I want perfection. I wanted 7-0. I thought Suarez and Sturridge had ordinary games. The amount of counter attacking opportunities we had was frightening. We bungled most of them. I reckon had SAS been on their ‘A’ game we’d have scored 8.
8-0 or 3-0 though United were spanked good and proper. I felt like King Leonidas after his first battle with the Persians. I could have easily let out a roar! The opposition destroyed. Fuck off.

I didn’t watch the game against Cardiff live. I followed the score on twitter and then watched it on Match First on Sky. As I was writing this blog Trevor Francis says “Liverpool playing with a real swagger now” he was absolutely right. This was a game we had gone behind in twice. Both times we shrugged our shoulders and got back into the game with lovely football. Our first goal came from a move that included about 30 passes. It was a beautifully worked goal and summed up where we are at the moment. The 2nd half was a piss take. Sturridge was chief piss taker. That back heel to Suarez took liberties, it really did. Henderson’s reaction to the back heel and goal is brilliant. Jumping up and down like a kid. By the time the ref blew the final whistle we had run up a Tennis score.

I think our away kit next season should be the 1982 Brazil kit. Tight blue shorts n’all. The travelling Kop should bring samba drums to the stadium. We are playing like a vintage Brazil side where nobody gives a shit about the defending. It’s all about attacking football and playing with no fear.

The other day I watched England play Denmark with 5 Liverpool players in the side. I thought even England had a bit of swag. All of the experts and pundits were saying England played poorly but I thought they did well. It was like watching Liverpool play but without caring about the result.

So, 8 games left now and 5 of them at Anfield. Sunderland next up. We should give them a good beating shouldn’t we? The manager and players shouldn’t get complacent but such is our swag I’m already adding on the 3 points when I look at the league table. I think maybe some rotation is in order for this game. I’d bring in Sakho for Agger. Sterling has to start in this one, probably in place of Allen. My side then: Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtle, Sakho, Flanno; Gerrard, Hendo, Coutinho; Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge.

I’m a bit worried about Gerrard being close to getting a 2 game ban. 1 more yellow between now and 13th April and we lose him for 2 games. I think the best time to get the yellow is against Sunderland. He’d miss Spurs at home and West Ham away it isn’t ideal but I think we could still get 6 points without him. We’d need him for City at Anfield I think so a tactical booking towards the end of the game might be in order for Stevie.

I think we’ll slaughter Sunderland. With Wes Brown and John O’Shea at the back for them we’ll win 7-0.

In the last blog I said we needed to improve the away form to have a chance of the title. Well since then we have won just the 4 away games on the spin scoring 15 goals.

As I write this City haven’t yet played United. We need the enemy to do us a favour because if City fail to win, the title would be in our hands. Imagine that.

*Edit* United 0-3 City. Oh well, hopefully Arsenal can hold City to a point next weekend.

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