Jeff Goulding shares his view from Anfield after the vital win over Leicester on Boxing Day.
My heart wasn’t exactly filled with hope as I prepared to leave for the game against Leicester. While we’d glimpsed the ghosts of Christmas future against Chelsea, Southampton and City, they’d been well and truly exorcised at Newcastle and Watford. Going to the game is sometimes more about duty than anything else.
Besides, ‘Boxing day’ without football is like Christmas without Brussels sprouts. It might be unpalatable to some and often leave a terrible aftermath, but it’s part of our culture and tradition.
This was actually one of the subjects touched upon by Jurgen Klopp in an interview on the BBC’s ‘Football Focus’. Not sprouts, but the lack of a Christmas break in England. It was another masterclass from the boss. He is the antithesis of modern football and routinely challenges the media’s pre-conceived wisdom.
The ‘commentariat’ have had the bit between their teeth ever since Klopp led the team towards the Kop at full-time in the game against West Brom. So, when granted exclusive access to his ‘inner sanctum’, it seemed the BBC couldn’t wait to dredge up the ‘incident’ again.
Jurgen’s response was both typical and brilliant.
“When people are so upset by this it tells me there’s something wrong with football in this country. Why should we reserve these things for only the special moments? Don’t the supporters celebrate every goal?”
I could feel my heart grow too sizes too big with every word he uttered, but that wasn’t even his best line. Nor was it the one about football being about coming together as a family and being one. Let’s face we’ve had the ‘family’ line rammed down our throats a lot in recent years.
Instead I was struck by how he dealt with the criticism of the celebration from those outside the club, that impressed me most. His response seemed typically eccentric and disarming, but it was no less powerful for it.
“It’s like when people look at your Christmas tree and they criticise your multi-coloured lights. Why should we care what they think? It is only for us.”
There’s nothing more Scouse than that for me. We’ll climb the hill our own way. Well put Jurgen.
The boss went on to refer to his time at Dortmund. The atmosphere wasn’t so good when he took over. Supporters felt they had waited too long for the next success, but he changed all of that by creating a bond between the club and the fans.
It just a shame that the BBC couldn’t match Klopp’s imaginative approach and instead immediately descended into cliché following the interview. So, is an atmosphere important? asked the show’s anchor, with one pundit predictably responding that it was, while the other stated that really the game is all about results. Yawn.
Nevertheless, by the time I left the house I couldn’t wait to get to the ground. Imagine what it must feel like in the dressing room before the game.
However, I did have lingering doubts about the effects of our Christmas tradition and it had nothing to do with fixture congestion.
You see, in Britain our culture requires that we deny our colons even the merest sight of vegetation for twelve whole months, then on the 25th December we launch an all out assault on our digestive system, bombarding it with all manner of greens. Then we throw in an assortment of beers, wines and spirits and allow it all to ferment overnight.
The results are sometimes explosive and always noxious. If Jurgen truly wants the FA to consider a winter break, he should dispense with stats and logical arguments about player burnout. Instead he’d be better off getting them to take a seat in Block 109 on ‘Boxing Day’ without a gas mask.
Despite the teams inconsistency there are green shoots of recovery when it comes to atmosphere. The ground was buoyant before during and after the game yesterday.
The flags were back and the mood seemed remarkably transformed. This is not to be underestimated, especially in the context of recent results. Other parts of the ground joined in too. The Centenary Stand was bathed in the giant crowd surfer that usually adorns The Kop before kick-off and during the match we could even hear the Main Standers singing too.
Liverpool dominated the first half with the crowd roaring on every tackle and applauding every attempt, even the wayward ones. Maybe it was the festive cheer, but gone was the usual moaning and whining that usually accompanies the team not being three up after twenty minutes.
One lad behind me had decided to adopt Sakho during the game and was loudly cheering the player’s every move. He was shouting “Go ‘ed Sakho lad,” or “Well in Sakho” every time the player went near the ball, and was drawing huge laughter each time. It reached crescendo when the player seemed to fall over, prompting this lad to shout “yeers Sakho that’s it come on!”
He was clearly doing it for effect, but it got everyone around him going and it was a great antidote to the usual carping that accompanies a skyward shot or poor pass. It also helped to raise the noise levels. Songs that usually start at the back of The Kop, before fading away, were taking hold hold and everyone was joining in.
A Christmas miracle? The Klopp effect? Whatever it is, it must continue.
As half-time approached the only source of angst was the fact we hadn’t taken full advantage. Leicester had threatened little, but without a goal Liverpool would be vulnerable when ‘The Fox’s’ had their inevitable spell in the game.
There had been a succession of misses from Coutinho, Sakho, Lovren, Can, Lallana and Origi. The latter looked sharp and seemed to be relishing another rare start. It was hugely disappointing to see him leave the pitch with what seems to be another hamstring injury.
Klopps frustration is echoed among the supporters. Every time a player seems to be moving forward, momentum is robbed by knocks strains and other shit words.
Enter Christian Benteke to loud cheers and applause. The Belgian has been no stranger to the treatment room since his arrival from Villa and he looked ‘ring rusty’ throughout the game.
There was a tinge of disappointment when Atkinson called time on the half but, to be fair, 0-0 at half-time had been more than most of us expected before kick-off.
There had been some good performances before half-time. Can in particular stood out, in-fact the whole midfield had been on top from the off. Sadly Firmino remains a work in progress and had failed to convince his critics who seem to surround me in Block 109.
I fully expected Leicester to come out fighting second half, but The Reds had other ideas. Klopp had once again sent the lads out early. It was a statement of intent and instead it was Liverpool, attacking The Kop, who carried the game to the visitors.
Benteke was causing problems and headed over from the centre of the box on the hour mark. The noise level rose once again and chants of ‘we love you Liverpool we do’ echoed around the stadium.
The players responded and just 3 minutes later they swept forward again. Firmino received the ball on the left and provided our Belgian striker with a gilt-edged opportunity he couldn’t refuse. Benteke stroked the ball past a despairing Schmeichel. The keeper looked furious with himself, but in reality he could have done nothing to stop the goal.
Cue scenes of raucous celebration. It was one goal, there was a long way to go, but who cares. At today’s Liverpool we celebrate the moments and it’s great.
The Reds more than saw out this game in the end and frankly should have added to their tally. Firmino and Benteke were guilty of bad misses. The latter will have had nightmares about his late late squandered ‘sitter’.
There was incredulity in The Kop as the striker broke and, with goal at his mercy, blew his chance. Schmeichel had advanced into Liverpool territory to try and snatch a late leveller. The Reds broke with pace and Firmino put Benteke through on goal. Instead of smashing his second he seemed beset with indecision and 40,000 Liverpool fans held their heads in their hands as he failed to convert.
Some around me lost sight of the bigger picture and were still bemoaning the missed chance as we left the ground. It seems that drinking from a half empty glass is a tradition some struggle to let go of.
Not me. This was a hugely impressive victory. The three points are of course all important, but for me the performance was equally critical. The crowd too need to take a bow, but remember an atmosphere is for life, not just for Christmas.
LIVERPOOL 1-0 LEICESTER CITY