Erik ten Hag is putting together a good side and today was the first real test of its mettle, which it passed with flying colours. The visitors, Arsenal, sitting top of the league, were never going to settle for anything less than maintaining their hundred per cent record. Under Mikel Arteta they are shaping up as quite a good side. If they continue as they are, they will most likely take a top four slot this season. But the competition will be tough. Liverpool, Newcastle, Chelsea, Spurs, and both Manchester sides will all be there or thereabouts.
Last night, half a bottle of whiskey well consumed by this point, I groaned as I watched the Manchester City goal monster net yet another. My son said to me during that game that the question of who was the better buy, Núñez or Haaland has now been settled. I suspect it has. One sure way not to score is fail to get on the field, something Liverpool's Uruguayan striker managed for three games due to a fiery temperament which may yet prove his undoing later in the season as the niggling and baiting from opponents intensifies. Just as they all throw the ball down the left to probe a perceived weakness in Liverpool's right back, they will burrow under the Núñez skin to get a rise.
Prior to the City game we watched the Old firm clash between Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow which saw the Paradise side consign their Ibrox rivals to Hell. We recorded it as the kick off time clashed with the Merseyside derby. During the game I told my son about my first trip outside Ireland being to watch a Scottish Cup final clash between the big two of soccer, north of Carlisle, 49 years ago. A crowd of 134, 000 filled Hampden Park that day and watched as Rangers came away 3-2 winners. The same day Sunderland performed Wembley heroics to win the FA Cup against Leeds United.
Anyway, to the most important game of the weekend - the battle of the Mersey. Liverpool, for me, are not an enjoyable team to watch, very frustrating in fact. For a side made up of quality chefs they often serve up insipid cuisine. Even when they beat Bournemouth 9-0 last weekend, it was all too easy. No real enjoyment could be derived from the victory, while the nagging doubt about a false dawn persisted throughout.
Salah went off to play in the African Cup Of Nations and, it seems, never came back. Makes his high wage demands seem wildly exorbitant. What he actually does any more for the team I fail to see. Van Dijk has become too casual, leaving me to think that the free transfer Joel Matip is more central to the defence than his fellow defender for whom a record fee for a defender changed hands. Value for money? Something wrong with that picture.
Midweek, as they laboured against a most unfortunate Newcastle United, my wife, son and daughter smirked as I grimaced while giving out yards to the television. That Liverpool secured all three points with a last gasp winner was hardly the antidote to my poisonous mood. I behaved as if they had waited until the very last second just to put us through the wringer. While intensely interested in Liverpool games, I enjoy watching the other sides a lot more. For that reason I look forward to the World Cup where, with no dog in the fight, soccer can be enjoyed over a beer rather than an anxiety-calming whiskey.
Down in the doldrums at a lack of verve, and habitually awaiting the first goal to be conceded to spark a fight back, yesterday however, was somewhat different. Against Everton, the Reds put up a fight. They were not fumbling and flailing around. They never looked like winning but I could sense that this is a team in transition, and despite the early pre-season hype about a two horse race, is finding its feet and hopefully its rhythm. Normally when the Man Of The Match award goes to a keeper, it is indicative of a siege where the goalie is the last man standing, performing heroics against the enemy at the the gates. Anything but from an Everton side that could as easily have won. Yet the Pickford performance was a clear indication that Liverpool were getting their shots on target, particularly from Firmino.
Where now Liverpool? To the next game and no further. No thoughts of cups and titles, just that process of building the stairway that might, next season, lead to the winner's podium.
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