It's been way too long since the Southampton game. Too much time spent in giddy contemplation of the joy that may lie ahead. Too many days of agitated disquietude, as the spectre of falling short of our ever-loftier goals haunts our more doleful moments. Football fans, plagued as we are by a communal attention deficit disorder, are not designed for such a torturous hiatus. One of the best things about the sport is the opportunity it offers to constantly change focus. Gotten drubbed by a rival? Never mind there's a game which offers a shot at redemption in a few days. Just recorded a facile victory over a hated foe? Well, don't get too cocky there, chief, that tricky away fixture is up next.
It's the waiting that kills you.
That pensive thumb twiddling and restless holding of horses will come to an end in spectacular fashion on Sunday as the Redmen visit the home of their fiercest rivals, Manchester United. Under the saucer-eyed stewardship of David Moyes, the Mancunians have been a shadow of their former selves. Their fall from grace, whilst both mirthsome and compelling to Liverpool fans, has also probably cultivated an ill-advised sense of expectancy amongst the Anfield faithful. For the first occasion in many years, a Liverpool side travels to Old Trafford, favourites not only to win but to dominate. These are strange and seductive days, friends.
Of course, this is the problem with vast improvements -- they bring with them attendant assumptions and elevated hopes. Should Moyes, the doyen of the open letter, manage to motivate his side to get constantly to the byline and cross Liverpool into submission, there will be those amongst you who will be crestfallen and incredulous. Yet United will likely start with the triumverate of Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie, with wonderkid Adnan Januzaj also threatening. It is testament to the remarkable seasons being had by our own attackers, that not one Liverpool fan would swop our offensive axis of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling for the United pack.
Joe Allen, a man who is likely, if not guaranteed, to start has been at pains to point out that the side, whilst blessed with such potency in attack, has been equally diligent in their preparation and application when it comes to the defensive side of the game. There won't be many of us who haven't derived a tremendous amount of satisfaction from seeing the comparatively diminutive likes of Coutinho, Sterling and the Welshman himself snapping, terrier-like at the heels of the opposition, harrying them to distraction and forcing the kind of errors that Suarez and Sturridge love to convert into Liverpool goals. Citing the home win against Arsenal as the blueprint for the ideal performance, Allen stressed the role of Brendan Rodgers in this method of play.
"I don't think I've seen a better performance in 20 minutes of football from the first whistle," he insisted. "Our target now is to make sure we do that in every game. Obviously it's difficult to play to that level all the time, but that's our dream and what we're aiming to do. How clinical we were with the ball and how many chances we created was one thing. But with Arsenal being such a great footballing team as well, the way we stopped them playing and won the ball back and pressed them hard was equally as pleasing.
"From the manager's point of view, a lot of people talk about the passing game that we like to employ with the ball at our feet. But certainly from the work that we put in day in, day out, it's also about when we haven't got the ball. I think that was one of the biggest things the manager talked about when he took over the club, and that's a way of playing that I've been brought up with. You can obviously see the benefits of it when you get it right - such as the game against Arsenal at Anfield. It was similar to the derby in that we really took the game to Everton from the kick-off. That's probably the best way to approach any match - to have an aggressive stance from start to finish."
Looking to the future, Allen asserts that he and his colleagues are dedicated to bringing "success back to this club." He is optimistic that under Rodgers footballers are attaining their full potential and that the progress at the club is real rather than illusory. The manager's bravery in trusting talented youth and his vision for how Liverpool should move forward are clear to most and Allen seems to appreciate both.
"If you look at the way players have developed in the last 18 months here, it's great to see and as a young player it gives you a massive confidence boost to know that you'll play," he averred. "I know it can be difficult at other clubs, but it certainly breeds optimism into you and helps you make that step up into being a regular in the first team. I'm not surprised at the advances that have been made."
If Allen is comparatively nonplussed by the strides forward made by Liverpool Football Club, this scribbler certainly is not. The "advances" he speaks of have been fairly meteoric and a source of tremendous pride and gratification to a body of fans who have long been tormented by accusatory taunts about underachievement and irrelevance. This group of players and their ambitious manager may be the ones to reestablish Liverpool as the premier force in England and that cannot happen soon enough. They have certainly given us a goodly amount of delight thus far, but no more waiting, please. We've been patient enough.