Almost ten years ago, I spent about five months abroad - mostly in Bath, England - studying and attending a program for American students. The program, which was primarily based in the humanities, was atypically small that year. With the enrollment period falling within months of 9/11, the applicant pool was essentially halved by an apparent and understandable aversion to foreign travel. The result was a necessarily tight-knit and somewhat insulated group of students who struggled to embrace their new and brief lives in a foreign but not so foreign country. With the unavoidable and tedious group bonding, I was frequently annoyed with some of my peers and ultimately resistant to hanging out with more than 3 Americans at once. My chosen alternatve was to seek out local culture to immerse myself in. Which, since I was in England and was just 20, was obviously going to be watching English football at the saltiest pub I could find.
This context of my early love for Liverpool is important, at least for me to note, because I find myself thinking very differently about Liverpool as the EPL season progresses each year. Rather than feeling saddled with the unyielding burden of my love of Buffalo sport - a love that is entwined with my feelings on home, family, friendship, identity - I can follow Liverpool and focus almost exclusively on the sport. And, where I've always had lingering fears that the curse of Buffalo sport is quite real (see EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED. EVER.), my devotion to Liverpool has existed during successful times (I did like them *because* they were good) that make me confident that the team can succeed despite the fact that I cheer for them.
To say that this is a refreshing change of pace, not to mention a tremendous relief post-Bills apocalypse, is an extraordinary understatement.
Though I imagine that my waxing poetic about the dichotomy of my varied allegiances is not all that refreshing, so I'll STFU now.
I, like many fans, became pretty frustrated with Liverpool's play during the first quarter of the season. Uninspired draws against garbage bottom table sides at Anfield did little to keep my interest. Sure, I watched much of that sub-par soccer, but hell if I was going to write about it or, by extension, any of the other Premier League fixtures of the past six or seven weeks. (See Utter Abandonment of "Closing Arguments" series...). And even though Liverpool made me pull my hair out, it's certainly been difficult to care enough about it when (a) most of the Deeg readership could give a shit about soccer (yet I'M STILL HERE TYPING WHEN I SHOULD BE WORKING), and (b) there have been other moments of hair-pulling / excitement / heart attacks / heartbreaks / sports equivalent of scabies to chronicle with our Bills and Sabres.
Either way, with the Bills having deflated into a pile of mucus so expected and wretched that I can barely stomach the look of them, and the Sabres struggling through an insane rash of injuries, my interest in the Reds - in no small part aided by their good play of late - has been rekindled.
First, let's start with the negative, so you don't think I've forgotten their failings during these recent successes. This team is maddeningly inconsistent. Post-John Henry spend-a-thon this summer, Liverpool is stacked with talent from top to bottom, yet for most of this season they have been been unable to get it together week to week. Let's take a look at the fixture results this year, along with some poorly constructed peanut gallery parenthetical commentary:
- Liverpool 1-1 Sunderland (frustrating draw which I watched on phone at NASCAR... true story)
- Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool (before Arsenal's apparent rebirth into a powerhouse)
- Liverpool 3-1 Bolton (basically the only solid home effort for three months, until this past weekend)
- Stoke 1-0 Liverpool (Brooklyn viewing with Yachter, featuring his quintessential hairpulling)
- Tottenham 4-0 Liverpool (that one hurt, and was where my interest started trending downwards)
- Liverpool 2-1 Wolves (meh)
- Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United (not that heartening with Rooney benched and Liverpool denied fourth straight win against United at Anfield, but that's just getting greedy if I'm being honest)
- Liverpool 1-1 Norwich City (home draw against recently promoted side /vomit)
- West Brom 0-2 Liverpool (Craig Bellamy shows why he was a good addition for his former squad, and the midfield finally starts to look more capable than a knapsack full of wasted potential and ball sweat)
- Liverpool 0-0 Swansea City (home draw against recently promoted side /vomit AGAIN /just when I thought it was on the upswing)
- Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool (WHA?? WHERE DID THIS COME FROM??)
- Liverpool 1-1 Manchester City (unreal effort with several missed chances but you can't argue with a draw against the League's best)
Speaking of which - segueing right into some thoughts on that recent play - HOLY CRAP they've been playing some good football lately. I fully recognize that, as one of the teamiest of team sports (I think), there will be a settling-in period for any new group of players on a football team, and that this period will be frustrating for those that want instant gratification (that's what she said, right mom?). Of course, you gotta be happy with winning away at Stamford Bridge, but Chelsea has looked less than itself at times (much like Liverpool) and may be slipping into 6th or 7th when the year is done. Following it up with an away draw against the league leaders, though, and it's all starting to look like a promising trend. Going into this past weekend's contest, I feared the worst - though, with Man City's dismantling of most EPL teams this year, I think that was plenty reasonable. Those fears were ultimately replaced with unexpected elation at the all-around inspired play of the Reds as the locked down City's absurdly talented offensive weapons. Reina looked superb, and the offense created a ton of chances which required Chelsea keeper Joe Hart to play out of his GD mind. Sunday's Man City match featured a crispness in footwork and ball distribution that I had not seen this year. Charlie Adam, the midfield offseason acquisition who has yet to duplicate his Blackpool (Ed note: got team wrong, h/t to @Matador1982, good lookin' out) form for Liverpool, is finally starting to look like the player John Henry's money paid for (preposition ending my sentence ftw). Combined with the stellar play of Lucas Leiva (WHO SAW THAT COMING TWO YEARS AGO?? ... And, just to spite me, oh balls he got hurt yesterday, but I can't bear to think of him out of the lineup for ANY length of time. Fuuuuuck), has created a midfield unit that can exist without the steady boot of Steven Gerrard (but seriously, get well Stevie).
Which brings us to yesterday's Carling Cup clash with Chelsea, with the Reds back for a rematch at Stamford Bridge. As both teams took the pitch with slightly modified B-Side rosters - particularly the Blues, who have a tough slate of domestic and European fixtures coming up - there's certainly a risk of overstating the significance of a 2-0 road victory. But, fucking hell that felt good. MADE BETTER BY FERNANDO TORRES BEING ON THE CFC B TEAM AND STILL LOSING BECAUSE FUCK HIM HE SUCKS.
Craig Bellamy, who took a day off this weekend to grieve the untimely passing of Welsh national team manager Gary Speed, was back with Liverpool and tallied helpers on each of the Reds' goals. Martin Kelly, representing so much of the future potential of the club, had a great game as he notched the second goal, while Maxi Rodriguez scored his billionth goal in 9 starts (real stats, trust me). For Kelly, it was a second goal against Chelsea in two games, both of which benefited from Bellamy assists. With Suarez not playing, and several other starters playing limited minutes, the depth of the team - in guys like Bellamy and Kelly and Maxi - was on display again. You gotta wonder whether it's possible/probable that King Kenny still has yet to find the perfect and most efficient combination of talent on the pitch. Great problem to have, but I just hope that Kenny will keep tinkering and squeezing as much as possible out of the talent he has acquired over the past several months.
So here we are on the Eve of December, with LFC in 6th place and still in the Carling Cup running (not that Europa qualification is so great a reward), and the team finally looking like they might be gelling enough to legitimately put them in the hunt for the Top 4. Lots of matches to go - including forthcoming winnable matches against Fulham, QPR and Villa - but this adopted love of mine, free of neverending championship drought and the unmistakable burden of Buffalo's sports curses, is giving me plenty of reasons to watch and hope, which is much more than I can say for those other assbag teams I follow.
C'mon You Reds.