I can’t explain why but I just fancied us against Liverpool on Sunday, I even predicted it on twitter (see below) on Friday night.
Maybe it was the 8 pints I had on that Friday after a dreadful week in work.
Maybe I’m naïve.
Maybe just stupid.
The situation however, reminded me of the Chelsea game last season, where we won 2-1 and when incidentally I backed us to win 2-1 too. The world was bearing down on us, we looked like getting heavily beaten by a dominant Chelsea side, plus the world and his wife were predicting humiliation, live in front of global audience. Sound familiar?
From the off I was regretting my relaxed attitude towards the game as we gave away a succession of corners, couldn’t clear the ball and looked generally petrified anytime the ball came near a black and white shirt.
Slowly though we grew into the game and took a foothold, limiting Liverpool to long range shots. Benteke should have scored from very close range and when he didn’t I really thought we were on.
Finally, we got a stroke of luck in the second half, after the excellent Winjalndum struck poor Skrtel and we went bonkers. I felt it was sheer relief and the reward our patient fans had deserved.
When the equally excellent Sissoko slotted a perfect pass through to Gini, it was bedlam. I was in paradise. It was brilliant.
What got me thinking though, after the ecstasy had faded slightly, is what was different?
The obvious stuff about effort and application aside, something looked different. Coloccini had a solid game at the back and was organizing things. Dummett looked more than competent at left back and Mbemba was just marking his man rather than looking after the whole of the back four.
Anita, who has taken a lot of stick recently, was industrious and covered ground well, getting in and around the Liverpool midfield to disrupt them. Colback was great in my opinion. Those expecting him to be a world beater and be our replacement for Cabaye should look at him for what he is. A grafter, a battler and a work horse.
Our wide players looked good in their roles and defended as well as they attacked. Cisse had his best game for us in ages. Held the ball up brilliantly, worked hard and put himself about. Admittedly he could have run in behind more often and should have done better when sent through on goal, but the guy has been hammered from pillar to post recently. He can’t have too much confidence, so I’ll let him off.
De Jong didn’t have a great game in my opinion but was a good link between the midfield and attack. He was blowing after about an hour but given his lack of match time I’m not too surprised. I will say, I felt he shouldn’t have started the game and I thought McClaren was using Perez as a scapegoat for our recent performances, rather than putting De Jong in the team for the right reasons.
I’m not too convinced that I was wrong as I’m not sure De Jong did enough to justify the swap, but either way he had a solid game and did enough to justify his inclusion.
The difference for me was that McClaren had seemed to ask them to do things they were good at.
He clearly expected Liverpool to use their high press tactics, so instilled in the players that we needed to do the same in certain areas of the pitch. Colback is great at that I think, and I also think that’s why Anita had a good game. Bustling around people, good one touch passing and trying to move forward rather than trying to come deep and pick up the ball from the defence.
Cisse’s effort mirrored that behind him and was closing people down. Even Sissoko joined in after a while and before you knew it the fans were singing and roaring their approval, and it built, and built and built. Big tackles were going in all over the place, with Janmaat and Dummett putting in a few crunchers.
We weren’t trying to play passing football, building from the back when we had the ball. We weren’t getting panicked into pumping the ball long and giving it away all the time. We played to our strengths and broke well and effectively. What a turnaround.
I am not daft enough to think that this is it. That we’re back and we’ll march up the table and sneak into the Champions League spots on the last day of the season.
I do still think the club is rotting thanks to Mike Ashley and his cronies.
I do still think McClaren isn’t the right man for the job.
However, if the penny has finally dropped for the players and the manager, and he has seen a way to unlock the potential our first team has, then let’s enjoy it in the short term for what it is.
I expect Spurs to do a job on us over the weekend and I expect the Villa game the week after to be the sort of blood and thunder battle we can’t lose but may end up drawing.
I do also think though that Steve can keep us afloat by playing to our strengths, so that perhaps for once we can get out of this mess we’re in. We can do this.
Keep the faith.
I've had so much to drink I've talked myself to thinking NUFC will beat Liverpool on Sunday. Good good.
— Dai Rees (@DaiRees1984) December 5, 2015
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