Last week our very own Trev brought us his match of the season, the delightful 6-0 win over Newcastle featuring a standout performance from the equally delightful Philippe Coutinho. On the cusp of the opening of the transfer window, it may seem a bit late to still be sharing memories from a season that ended over a month ago, but my match of choice feels much more in line with the club's future than it does with the recent past.
I confessed earlier this week that I am indeed one of the unfortunate Hodgson-era converts and thus have never known nice things. Being aware of your club's history is hardly a substitute for experiencing your club's history first hand, and in the past three seasons we've had precious few heart-in-your-mouth moments where everything seemed on the line and yet entirely within reach. In the absence of any meaningful domestic cup runs, the second leg Europa League tie at Anfield against Zenit St Petersburg was that heart-in-your-mouth moment last season.
Europa League presents an annoying challenge for those of us in time zones five or more hours behind GMT: having lost two-nil the week before, do you keep UEFA's live ticker open in a browser window while you pretend to direct your full attention to your day job or do you muster the willpower to remain unspoiled until you can watch the match when you get home? And if you choose the latter, do you check the final score once Hulk does his thing and Zenit takes an early lead? Do I need this kind of stress in my life?
Yes, yes I do. Being down three-nil over two legs is not a great place to be. After twenty minutes, it was dire. I began the five stages of grief for our Europa League future, fast tracking to the bargaining stage and telling myself I wouldn't check the score if only Liverpool could equalize. Equalizing wouldn't do much for the aggregate score, but it would mean the tie hadn't been entirely killed off either.
But then Luis Suarez tied it up with a delicious goal from a free kick and I perked up a bit. All was not lost just quite yet. Joe Allen (!) followed suit fifteen minutes later and I experienced a small moment of transcendence best expressed by Tom Hanks: we're gonna win. WE'RE GONNA WIN! It was the turning point of the match for me, where everything was suddenly very possible again. My earlier deliberations about checking the score now seemed like they'd been debated by another person entirely.
Suarez's second goal on the night, again from a free kick, did nothing to dispel my ardent belief that Liverpool would be able to source a fourth and final goal that would secure their advancement to the next round. We all know how this story ends, though, and obviously it was not to be.
What we saw on that night was something else entirely from what we'd seen all season, both before and after that match. Spurred into fine form by a week's worth of "twelfth man" flattery leading up to kick off, the crowd gave a master class in what pre-Hodgson fans mean when they talk about European nights at Anfield. There was a fight in the team that we rarely, if ever, saw at any other point in the season and the determination of the players to overcome the three goal aggregate deficit was glorious to watch. The resulting loss on aggregate was so devastating that I frequently forget that Liverpool actually won this game.
This is the Liverpool I want to see this coming season: not giving up, not going down without a fight, and pouring everything they've got into securing a victory. Players speak of their pride at wearing the Liverpool red, and I don't think I've felt more pride towards the club than I did during this match.
There's a cautious optimism about at the moment and with the reinforcements the club is bringing in, there's no reason why Liverpool can't have a good showing in the league that ensures European football returns to Anfield in 2014. The Zenit match gave us tragic Hodgson converts a cruel taste of what the rest of you already know all too well: that this club has a fantastic history, but that history only matters insofar as you continue to add to it. My hope is that what Brendan Rodgers is doing with the team means that once we get there — back to Europe, back to the top of the league — we stay there. Surely I deserve that as someone who joined up during Roy's reign.