Episode 5 – Tense and Intensity
Liverpool v Real Madrid in the First Round Knock Out stage of the Champions League and the strains of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” finishes around Anfield and a roar overtakes it as the Kop urges the team on against the all-white of Spain’s Real Madrid.
I’m looking for a high intensity performance from the boys, to show Real Madrid we aren’t just here to let them pass on by to the next round, as they think is probably their right. I remember watching on TV the last time that Liverpool hosted Real Madrid in the Champions League. What resulted was 0-3 drubbing and a footballing lesson. I hoped not this time now that I’m in charge. My prayers were answered.
A resounding 4-1 with an inspired Divock Origi scoring a hat-trick, two before half-time and one immediately following it. I’m especially pleased about the speed at which we rip apart Real’s defence with a cheeky back heel from Henderson, one touch from Ascacibar, who has dragged the lone defender our of position, into Origi who slots it home.
Ascacibar’s was the one that really made me sit up. He hits a stunning volley from outside the box and smashed it in the top corner past the Real Madrid keeper. Screamer!
Slick Ron gets a consolation goal just before the final whistle as the ball skims of his greasy head and flies into the top corner following a free kick. This doesn’t matter though as we hold out for a 2-2 draw at the Bernabéu with goals from Berardi and Vardy. Progress, I think to myself as I’m walking down the tunnel off to the changing room.
I await the draw of the Quarter Final eagerly, wondering who we can look to push past next. Arsenal. Hmmm, could have been worse I feel. English opposition, so less travelling time is in our interests and an opponent we know. A Gabrigol, Icardi, Ozil and Sanchez led team will be tough, but we’ve faced tougher I feel. That draw against Barcelona’s MSN may have gone to my head at this point…
The first leg is away at The Emirates. We managed a 1-1 draw with an away goal from Divock Origi just before half-time. I encourage the players to push on and take confidence in the goal they’ve scored. But whatever Ancelotti has said to his team in their dressing room certainly did the trick. They came out firing in the second half with Icardi looking dangerous. In the end, it’s a Santi Carzola goal that levels things up, ready for the Anfield leg. I’m not disappointed by the draw, and hope that we can show Arsenal what we’re made of and repeat our Real Madrid showing with the Anfield crowd on our side.
In truth, it was a tense affair. Neither team really showing much quality in a disappointing evening. At least until the 82 minute when Arsenal press forwards and Barbosa scores. Is this is? Are we destined to be knocked out again after another disappointing performance? I push the team forwards, changing our style to attack and then see Robert Firminho run at the Arsenal defence. They drop off him, allowing him to run. Still they drop, allowing him to run into the middle of the pitch just outside the 18-yard box and he doesn’t take any time to think about it, he just larrups a curling shot into the top right hand corner of Cech’s goal at the Kop end. 1-1 with two minutes left of normal time. Anfield bursts into excitement and relief all in one euphoric moment as I struggle to contain myself from running onto the pitch.
Arsenal are clearly jaded and I decide to continue to push and look for the next goal, but it isn’t forthcoming. To penalties it goes. And to penalties we go out of the competition. Gutting doesn’t describe it and to lose at Anfield is equally galling. Our target of European dominance is missed again.
After our early season blip (always good to get that one out of the way!), we had stormed up the Premier League putting lesser teams in their place with great regularity. Our away form though, was concerning, dropping points to the likes of Norwich and Crystal Palace, along with the bigger teams around us. Luckily, other teams around us were doing the same.
The run in was tense with Man City, our title rivals, and Newcastle, our bogey side, both away from home and then Arsenal again, at Anfield, as the last game of the season.
A 0-0 draw away against City was celebrated like a victory since they were deprived of the three points and the gap remained the unchanged with us in the driving seat. At St James’s Park, I tell the boys the title is in their hands. Sadly, pressure was too much for them and they could only manage a 1-1 draw despite going 0-1 up from another Ascacibar goal from midfield in his BBM role. Newcastle, determined to get something from the game push for players into advanced attacking positions and it’s too much for our somewhat brittle back four to cope with as runners come from every direction. I scramble to keep the point locked up, and succeed in doing so. This meant that nothing less than a win would guarantee the League for us, as goal difference was too tight to make it comfortable.
So it proved, as Man City won their final game of the season away against Chelsea with enough goals to overtake our goal difference.
At least, that would have been the case had we not put two past Arsenal and won the game comfortably with a resounding victory to claim the spoils and revenge over our earlier Champions League knock out. We press them high and repeatedly win the ball back in their half, not giving them time to build attacks and feed Icardi who is so lethal.
Two clear-cut chances to their none and seven half chances don’t tell the true nature of this contest. It wasn’t one. Arsenal were hustled and harried out of the game, as is reflected in the average rating of player ratings from the two teams.
Completing back-to-back Premier League titles this early in my managerial career at Liverpool wasn’t really expected. It is most definitely welcomed though. I feel like I’ve added more strength in depth and also sorted out the woeful lack of quality in the U23s and U19s by scouting for genuine prospects to coach in our fully developed Kirby Academy, with some like Luis pushing Bazoer for first team action with his improvements on the training pitches with the First Team at Melwood.
A small and inconsequential team across Stanley Park become even smaller as they get relegated. Proof that Chinese money can’t buy you everything in life. We say the same to Aston Villa as they go straight back to the Championship. I don’t think I’ll bother to scout for any potential acquisitions at those clubs as I did with Vardy and Drinkwater last year.
Besides our extra-time win over Arsenal our progression through the FA Cup was somewhat simple. We beat the likes of AFC Wimbledon, Bolton and Brighton before meeting Arsenal, and doing so with so-called weakened sides as we’re forced to rotate thanks to still competing on all four fronts up until April. Game time is given to Mané, who has been behind Berardi in the pecking order, comes up trumps as he scores two and provides three assists in three games. Vardy gets to start ahead of the rested Origi, and bags himself four in two starts.
On to the final, after a demolishing of West Brom 4-0 in the Semi-Final (where Vardy grabbed a hat trick) and we meet Man City in the third Cup Final of the year. Pep must be sick of the sight of me when he shakes my hand at the start of the game. The boys have agreeably moved yet further away from the fashion-disaster choice of the cream suits that the Spice Boys wore in the ill-fated 1996 Cup Final.
After beating Man City in both the Premier League title chase, and both the League Cup and Community Shield, we knew we had the psychological advantage going into the game and the boys did Liverpool proud. A Berardi goal before half-time sees us take the lead into half-time. I say that the Cup is in their hands, now go out and make sure that it’s in both of them at the end of the game. Origi takes special notice of this and bags himself a brace in the second half, one straight after half-time, the other to cancel out an Agüero goal for Man City, and with Lovren chipping in to the party too.
A quadruple of English domestic titles makes for one heck of a celebratory open top bus ride, only beaten by that of the England Cricket Ashes-winning side of 2005. Liverpool streets are full of red shirts, flags and scarves being waved around as our fans bask in the warm May sunshine along the Mersey and around Anfield. The second title and cup victories is enough to lift some of my players and even myself into favoured personnel at the Club. It looks as though we’re on the right path but we’re some way short of our goal of European dominance enjoyed in the 1980s.
At the end of season awards dinner the Best XI is announced with Bazoer replacing Can, rather aptly, and a clear victory in Coutinho for Fans’ Player of the Season Award, something he’s becoming rather accustomed to receiving, given his tactical importance in the wide playmaker role out on the left.
My scouts have been busy and have identified potential talents to come in and I’m still not happy with our defensive depth and centre back so I’ll be entering the market again in the forthcoming transfer window. Safe to say that Arsenal’s Giménez won’t be on my short-list after last year’s demands from his agent…
To find out who I sign, who gets sold on, what tactical tweaks I look to make and whether or not Liverpool can continue to make progress in the Champions League again, see what happens next Friday. A special tactical focus on the victorious FA Cup Final will be released on Thursday morning.
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