I hate our games against Manchester United. There is simply too much at stake, and losing just isn’t an option.
It’s not the losing itself that hurts the most; after all it’s only three points. It doesn’t make or break a season. What really gets to me is seeing their players celebrate. I generally don’t spend much time hating, neither in football nor life, but for those ninety minutes I do. Winning isn’t about winning – it’s about not losing.
That’s how it is for most of us, right? As with losing, it’s not the victory itself that gives us the extra spring in our steps, but rather the joyous feeling of having dodged a bullet and given yet another week to live. It brings a sense of calm to everything, especially when listening to fans of other teams who aren’t in the fortunate situation of surfing the wave of recent victory. You have the upper hand; nothing can get to you.
As the players in red representing Liverpool FC stepped onto the pitch to honour the memory of Bill Shankly I felt that intensely familiar contrast: the excitement and the fear. No joy though. There was no room for it this time either. Even when we got the early goal this little devil popped up in the back of my mind, telling me not to get overly worked up. I have tried telling myself to just enjoy the season, every step of the way, and not take things too seriously. But I can already tell that’s not going to happen this season either. You live and breathe every second of it and you hope it’s worth all the emotional outpour in the end.
And you tense up, and you start to expect and hope; and as the game progressed it started to feel a bit different. The tension was still there, as it always is when you have something to lose, but still: Different. United felt different, and more importantly Liverpool felt different.
I guess you can attribute this to different reasons, depending on how you look at it. One of them undeniably has to be the absence of the Alex Ferguson factor. For as long as I can remember he has been standing there on the touchline, pushing his players over the finish line in the dying minutes; delivering the killer blow to us and others as his team slowly turned the screw. There often was a defining moment as a game drew to its close; one where your heart skipped a beat and just knew deep within something terrible was about to happen at any given moment.
This time though, there was no such moment – despite Fergie time still lingering about.
Psychology is a huge factor in football, and for me personally this game represented something I think many Liverpool fans also felt as the game went on – and I think the players shared it. This time, for the first time in many years, my belief in LFC outweighed the fear of the red team from Manchester.
Yes, they did have the ball; and yes, we didn’t look like we had much to offer going forward in the second half. Still, somehow there was an element of control about Liverpool’s backs against the wall performance, as there has been every time this approach has been deployed this season. There seems to be a certain solidity about this Liverpool team. Flexibility and solidity. So far this season we have seen the football we want to play coupled with the football we sometimes have to play – and it’s been producing results.
Consistency and mentality; the two are most definitely linked firmly together. Winning and believing. And for each dogged 1-0 win the belief in being capable of repeating it grows stronger.
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