Time warp

I’ve never really liked The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s OK if you’re drunk and/or stoned, which we often were for the midnight or 1 AM showings at the State Theater in Ann Arbor in the 80s. But I never found it particularly funny or enlivening as a film; certainly not in the same way as something like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was another frequent late-night event at that same theater (or the Michigan Theater right down the street.) So, when people bring up “classic” songs from RHPS, my usual reaction is to shrug. But there’s no denying that Sunday felt something like this particular “classic” describes. Three years ago, we played Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield and beat them by two goals and lost the league to Manchester City by one point. The score then was 2-0 and the game was firmly in hand much sooner than the 70th minute or so that this one took but, just like then, once we’d gone ahead, we knew the game was ours and scoring more produced those anticlimactic moments that you almost never want: you cheer for a goal, one of the rarer events in football, but you know that you’re essentially cheering for nothing.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the season has been a failure or something else equally ludicrous because I don’t believe that. We’ve won both domestic cups for the first time in 10 years and 16 years, individually, and for the first time together in 21 years. We’re in our third Champions League final in the last five years. We went undefeated against the rest of the Big Six. We’ve made some great moves in the transfer market to keep the ball rolling and we extended the best manager in the game for another two seasons. This has been a great year. But, just like when I natter on about Everton, I’m speaking from an old school perspective when I say that winning the league is everything and to not do so in a situation where we went into the day thinking it was basically hopeless, only to have hope dropped in our laps by the drama gods, who then snatched it away again with the evil grin that says: “This is real drama…” Well, that takes some getting over, which is partially why I’m only writing this three days later. The other part is because I was doing my other usual things and I was also hemming and hawing about doing an “end of the season” piece in this final PL game post, before finally deciding to do something longer after the CL final.

On the topic of the importance of the league, there’s something of a quandary there, as well. I have a friend, Michael, who’s a long-time Barcelona fan. He’s always argued that winning a domestic league is a greater demonstration of the strength of a side because of the need for consistency. Every game counts for the same amount of points and if you have the most at the end, that means you were the best team across the whole season; not just late in one for a tourney run like in the NCAA basketball tournament or in a one-off like a cup game. It’s a perspective I generally share and shared long before we knew each other, which is why I still come with that “league is everything” old man routine. However, there’s also no doubt that being able to keep bringing that same level of intensity for the duration of a months-long tournament when a single loss could mean that you’re out is also a measure of strength. Even with two-legged ties in the knockout rounds, it’s been repeatedly shown that the first loss could mean the tie is over. We did it to Inter this year. A proper assessment of a team can also include showing up when it really matters. To have done that repeatedly, through three different tournaments this year, just like in 2001, is also a fair measure of a great team and a great season. And, as American sports have shown time and time again, the memories of a great playoff run will last; sometimes even when you don’t win the final. Many fans even older than me will say the same about the FA Cup, back in the day.

But that’s what we’re talking about here, right? Time. What memories will be enshrined about this period of English football? Will it be that Liverpool Football Club was one of the greatest sides in history or would’ve been if there hadn’t been some other team in the way? You can easily imagine Everton thinking the same thing in the late 80s, when we were still ruling the roost (“on our perch”) of the old First Division and they were trying to stand toe-to-toe with us for that glory. You can think of many other clubs down through the years since I started watching in the 70s- Leeds, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Nottingham Forest -who could’ve been in a position like we were in the 80s or Manchester United was in the 90s and 00s; masters of all they surveyed, but they couldn’t get past that one other club that just seemed to have the edge at all the right moments. Or five minutes at the Etihad, since we’re talking about time. But the other way to look at it is what all the pundits seem to enjoy, in that City and LFC are driving each other forward and, yet again, City have claimed the trophy that we most desire and we have a chance to once again claim the one that they’ve never won even once. History keeps repeating itself and all that.

Liverpool 3 – 1 Wolverhampton

Wolves have undergone an unusual transition over the course of this season, in that they seemed to retain the dogged defensive determination (alliteration, FTW) instilled in them by Nuno Espirito Santo for the first half, in which they were awful to try to score on but didn’t do much on the other end, but became far more fluid and open on both ends of the pitch as the second half of the season progressed. Injuries certainly played into it, but I wonder if Bruno Lage decided that they only way to really advance above mid-table (and emphasize and, therefore, retain their more attractive offensive tools, like Diogo Jota) was to try pushing to the other end of the spectrum. In the end, it didn’t really produce the desired result, as they ended up firmly mid-table in 10th place and ended the season on a 0-2-5 run in their last seven which… ouch. So, it wasn’t a huge surprise to see them show up and largely play counter-ball against us, especially knowing that we’d be even more intent on the attack than usual, since winning was essential for us to have a chance at the title. We, on the other hand, also didn’t evade expectations.

Sadio Mané has been among our best players since he returned from AFCON. Finally winning the cup for Senegal and then later leading them to World Cup qualification seems to have energized the member of the famous front three who has often been in the shadow of his counterparts. No more. His assumption of the Bob role has been just another example of his versatility and overall superior play for all of his six seasons here. The increasing rumors about him skipping off to Bayern Munich or somewhere else on the continent are something of a concern, but we’ll wait to worry about that when/if it actually happens. Oh, and that whole time warp thing? Sadio scored three years ago against Wolves, too. With that in mind, it’s worth watching that killer assist from Thiago Alcãntara and Sadio’s equally excellent goal again:

Man, if Thiago can recover soon enough to pull off something like that on Saturday, we could really be in business. Meanwhile, we’ll likely be hoping for continued production from another member of the front line.

Speaking of great second-half players… Luís Diaz has been a revelation since he arrived. We didn’t get him a domestic league double, since he already has a medal from Porto’s victory in the Primeira Liga, but we can possibly get him his third cup medal in less than six months, which is a bit more than most players would expect, even coming to a club as prominent as Liverpool.

But there’s not a whole lot more to say about this match. I’ll have much more to say when I write about the season as whole after the CL final. After all, if we do get a cup treble there will be just as much to say about having a Golden Boot winner, Golden Glove winner, and Playmaker winner and yet still somehow not winning the league. In the meantime, let’s watch the last walk onto the Anfield pitch of another folklore hero in the annals of the Reds:

We’ll never forget you, Div. There were too many great moments for that, even if they never came as often as you or we might’ve liked.

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