While we at the Deeg are steadily getting ourselves ready to #OccupyNassau next weekend, and are trying our darndest to keep motivated to give a shit about our Buffalo Sabres as the All-Star break rolls on, it's probably no big surprise to most of you that I would choose to check in with a joyful, exclamatory post about my Liverpool Reds. This blog may be aimed at wallowing in self-pity over the woes of our beloved franchises and sports heroes, but it also has to be about taking a moment - even when there is a healthy fear of the other shoe dropping, with force - to grin from ear to ear when we're lucky enough to be reminded of what sports can, on perfect days, be all about.
On the heels of a wretched 3-1 away defeat at bottom-feeding Bolton last week (this before Bolton finished their acquisition of American defender Tim Ream), it was truly difficult to have too much faith in Liverpool as they approached this week's League Cup match against EPL-leading Manchester City. Even though it was apparent, after the first leg of the semifinal in Manchester, that the Sky Blues were not going all in for a second-straight League Cup - likely due to absences from some of their key players - there was still a lingering feeling that Liverpool's 1-0 lead on aggregate might fall apart right before the eyes of the Kop.
That fear, in the end, proved unfounded on Wednesday. Liverpool played up to their competition once again, and pressed offensively much more than their opposition. The result - a 2-2 home draw that gave them the win on aggregate - was exactly what fans had hoped for. Down 2-1 late in the game, and struggling to beat the riddle that is Man City keeper Joe Hart, Liverpool deserved a breakthrough and ultimately found it off the boot of Craig Bellamy, former Man City cast-off. (my apologies if copyright laws take this video down in the future... Bellamy's goal is at the end of this highlightapalooza that tracks his many moments of impact on Wednesday)
That said, this Welshman-induced joygasm has slightly subsided in the nearly 48 hours since that match, and it is time to take a minute to calm down with some deep breaths. We talked a little about this, Yachtsman and I, in Episode 22 of the CrapTastiCast (which should drop sometime this weekend), and he mused as to how I was way more willing to praise this team who has still yet to win a GD thing. Fair enough.
So, they've made it back to Wembley. Now what?
In the short term, the "now what?" is tomorrow's FA Cup 4th Round matchup against Manchester United at Anfield. Man U, unburdened by the missing pieces that were the undoing of their cross-town counterparts this week, are coming into Anfield with high expectations. Where Man City may have found solace in their all-but-assured success in the League table this year, Man U has to be looking at the FA Cup as its best chance of silverware for the campaign. In other words, it could be seriouusly messy for the home town squad, and will certainly not be the kind of comparitively relaxed opposing side that Liverpool faced earlier this week. Throw in the ongoing tensions between the clubs following the Suarez/Evra incident, and there are plenty of reasons to watch this game tomorrow. Even if you don't even love the sport like some of us do.
Looking further ahead, assuming Liverpool doesn't survive this weekend of FA Cup play, the importance of the League Cup spikes considerably since Liverpool seems intent on blowing their chances to make a Top 4 finish and qualify for Champions League this year. Of course, a league cup title is probably worth much less to the team than a Champions League birth, but it is also something that the team has much more control over. Their finals opponent, Cardiff City, is a team that Liverpool should beat, and if Champions League ends up being too far out of reach due to the ongoing success of teams above LFC, it is a team that Liverpool must beat. The League Cup may be the sole remaining way for the Reds to put a positive stamp on this season and avoid another depressing summer of nothing but regret. A loss to Cardiff, a side playing in the lower-tier Championship, would be an embarassment and would only amplify the feelings of fans who have already seen plenty of missed opportunities this season.
In the end, as happy as I am about the win this week - and the way that they won - I'm still knee-deep in apprehension and anxiety as we approach the Man U match tomorrow, as well as the League Cup final later this month. At least I got those brief moments of joy to hold on to, and to remind me yet again why it is that I watch.