As your scribbler was rummaging through the cobwebbed recesses of his troubled mind for an angle to enliven today's offering, a picture of a dapper Spanish gent proffered itself on the laptop screen. He was saying compelling things, this fellow, things about professionalism and standards. Roberto Martinez, for it was he, was averring to the world that he and his Everton charges would provide staunch opposition for title-chasing Manchester City on Saturday. As he outlined the effort that his team would expend in an earnest attempt to sneak into the last Champions League spot, most Liverpool fans will have felt marginally calmer about the fact that they are reliant on their neighbours for a favour but all I could think about was Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando.
In the steamy urban New Orleans of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois, a fading Southern belle, tells the doctor leading her away to an insane asylum that she has "always depended on the kindness of strangers." Frankly, I don't even know where to start with the metaphorical potential of that whole image so lets just say that as Brendan Rodgers, a far from fading belle, and his men focus on trying to win their final two matches of the campaign, they will be all too aware that the fates have conspired to leave them in need of assistance from one of Martinez, ballcap enthusist Tony Pulis or rotund Liverpool hater Sam Allardyce. For all her pathetic drunken fragility, poor old lascivious Blanche was never so hard up for help as Liverpool find themselves right now.
For his part, Martinez was eager to assert the honest determination that he hopes will be apparent in his team's efforts against the title favourites. He is a rare creature in the morally nebulous world of football management, is Martinez. Like Rodgers, the Spaniard is a principled and decent sort who can defend and inspire his own club without recourse to the kind of pathetically aggressive psychological bullying and Machiavellian shenanigans preferred by Jose Mourinho and other disciples of the former Dark Lord of Mancunia. Even if his deepest thoughts run contrary, he is too professional to suggest anything other than total commitment will be forthcoming from himself and from his players.
"We won’t drop our standards," he insisted. "We’ve got such a professional group they wouldn’t dare to drop their standards, first and foremost not to let another team-mate down. But the main thing is that we’re trying to build something special for ourselves. We are trying to be as good as we can and it’s not in our nature to try and throw points away or not give everything we can. The history and heritage of this club makes the thought of that unacceptable. We’ve got too much to fight for. It would be a debate if we were mid table with nothing to play for then that could be a debate. Even then though, it’s not in our nature."
Encouraging words indeed, words that will turn us all into self-loathing temporary bluenoses for a brief window of time tomorrow but what of all the talk from Everton fans of throwing the game, of preferring to miss out on the admittedly slim chance of Champions League football rather than see Liverpool ascend to the Premier League throne? What of that, Roberto?
"I think that's banter," claimed Martinez. "That’s part of the rivalry and I understand it, but what’s more important is the integrity of our club and what we are as a team. If we are helping our neighbours to win something in the end, then it’s better than them winning something without our help. We’re not going to drop our standards. If anything it would be a glorious chapter in the history of the two clubs in the city to have a situation when one team helps the neighbours to be successful. City will bring everything - and neither side will settle for a draw. The ramifications will make it even more interesting. We must bounce back from last weekend’s feeling and get the same levels as Arsenal and United. For us it is important that we can give a proper send-off for our fans in the last home game of the season and we want to give a performance to remember."
Good man. That'll do nicely. Now go out there and assign three players each to Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero.
Of course all of this talk of favours will be utterly redundant and pretty foolish if Rodgers' Redmen fail to take the next two steps themselves. An away trip to the team led by the doyen of agrarian football is no easy task, especially in the wake of a dispiriting reversal at the hands of negativity fetishists, Chelsea, but there is not another manager more adept at inspiration than the Antrim native and for all the prehistoric inclinations of the Welsh millinery enthusiast, his team will surely be less talented than the superstars Mourinho sent out at Anfield to play for long throws and corners. In other words, the game against the defeated Champions League semi-finalists was the perfect preparation for Monday night's match against Crystal Palace. Cheers Jose.
When Liverpool last won the league one of the highlights of that season was a 9-0 destruction of this weekend's opponents -- it was the kind of monster score that could secure a title for the current Reds. However, that season also saw one of the most crushing defeats of my youth when Palace prevented another Double for Kenny Dalglish by beating that excellent Anfield side 4-3 in the semi-finals of the FA Cup. The scorer of the winner on that day was none other than Alan Pardew, sideline brawler extraordinaire and manager of Liverpool's final opponents this season, Newcastle United. Is there some kind of cosmic karmic thingummy at play here? Probably not, but it is more than a little odd.
Whatever the outcome at Goodison, Liverpool's players, led by the redoubtable Steven Gerrard, will be anxious to banish the memories of last Sunday's unpleasantness and return to the kind of exhilarating football that has made this season the finest since that last league winning campaign. Were they to emphasise the club's status as league leaders by roundly thumping Crystal Palace it would be a welcome balm to the anxiety-sodden souls of a legion of proud but expectant fans.