Top Gun, the 1986 film starring Tom Cruise, is a cinematic masterpiece. That’s not a quote from a respected film critic, but rather my appraisal which is true and cannot be debated because this is my article. Anyway, given its high quality, I’ve seen this film approximately eleventy billion times. [Editor’s note: That’s a rough estimate. The real amount may be higher.]
At this point, even given that I’m generally prone to writing pieces that are basically one giant, circuitous sidebar to a specific moment in Liverpool Football Club’s history, you, ever diligent if potentially annoyed and aggrieved reader, may be wondering, “what in the actual hell are you on about this time, AJ?”
Well, here’s the thing you need to know. Actually, wait, here’s the two things you need to know:
- First, there’s an iconic scene in the film where Maverick, the cocky fighter pilot played by Tom Cruise, decides to pull a bit of a prank after successfully - they think - defeating a legendary instructor in a training mission. He decides that he’s going to fly really close to the flight tower to scare the operators. This prank is called buzzing the tower.
- Second, there’s a character in the film named Ice Man (what a cool nickname), played by Val Kilmer. Throughout the film, he’s positioned as Maverick’s main rival as he is the obvious candidate to take home honors as the best pilot due to his record and cool (get it?) and collected style of flying. The scene where they introduce Ice Man involves Maverick’s flight partner Goose (played by Anthony Edwards) telling him that he learned that nickname because he flies with “ice in his veins” and that his trick is that he lulls his opponents into making a mistake, at which point he pounces. Which, as an adult, I can appreciate, but as a youth and right up through adolescence I took to mean: he was super boring and basically made you fall asleep and then killed you...like a cross between Freddy Krueger and Mark Proksch’s Energy Vampire from What We Do in the Shadows.
So, what am I talking about? This weekend’s Premier League tilt against Manchester City!
Pep Guardiola’s City squad is the obvious stand-in for Ice Man in the Premier League’s chase to be named this year’s Top Gun. Cool, collected, refined. And now that Alberto Moreno is gone (sob), most likely to have people involved with bleached tips (shout out Sergio Aguero).
They aren’t boring, but they are the type of team that has both the experience, skill, and poise to wear down an opponent like Liverpool. They are, quite simply, a well-oiled (heh) footballing machine.
Jurgen Klopp’s charges are a little bit more like the freewheeling Maverick in this relationship. They fly by the seat of their pants, are active in swarming the ball, and seek to create rather than to react. And with a trio like Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah at the front, the attack definitely resembles one that is rooted in instinct and fun.
The club has most certainly been scraping together wins of late - wins they’ve all deserved based on the run of play and the statistics. And while it is certainly a type of fortune to have had the results reflect the statistical output to a terrifyingly accurate degree (and to also not have had any major injury issues to date), one cannot say it is unearned.
Perhaps it is that bit of fortune, that waiting for a stumble, and the fact that they aren’t quite firing one all cylinders that has people still looking at Liverpool as a bit of an underdog in this fight. Lest we forget, Maverick was also firmly lodged in the middle of the pack and only just barely made the cut to graduate from Top Gun. Liverpool have the feel of a club that are getting by, but with the use of the full complement of skill and guile. And even then, just barely.
The run of matches to date and the results so far have, then, placed City in a peculiar place. Their bell’s been rung in ways it hasn’t before. They’re sitting in space that, given the positioning of both clubs at the Festive Season last year, isn’t exactly unfamiliar. But it’s also come at a time of a bit of transition for the club itself, with key players aging out (e.g.: Fernandinho) and their replacements not being quite bedded in (e.g.: Rodri), or major injuries hitting key players (e.g.: Leroy Sane). City are a talented club, but one that seemingly is trying to bridge themselves into a new era.
Liverpool, meanwhile, continue to provide the type of performances that act as fodder for Team of Destiny™ narratives. It means something now because that’s what it looks like is unfolding. But it will be worth nothing if Liverpool don’t end up, in fact, cashing in on Destiny’s Wager by wrapping both hands around the coveted Premier League trophy.
Which is why this weekend’s matchup at Anfield serves as the perfect bell weather, at the perfect time. Liverpool are coming into this match with only the injury to Joel Matip being carried in the squad. They are at basically full complement and given Jurgen Klopp’s rotational work, the first team should feel generally fresh and spry.
While City may have stumbled a bit, Raheem Sterling is playing like the world beater we all knew he could be. And given the quality of Pep’s work, we know better than to expect anything but a lively and well-contested match from the off. This will not be a mere walk in the park.
So, the stakes then, are a bit simple: lose to City and the advantage we’ve built all but evaporates. We’ll be top of the table still, yes, but the margin for error returns back to nearly zero. Which is essentially what most Liverpool supporters would say is necessary to try and take the title from a club as deep and talented as City.
But if we win? Well, a win would mean that our destiny remain firmly within our own hands. It would be a signal to the league and to City specifically that we mean business.
Let’s buzz the tower, lads.
And with that, we’ve got a list of songs here for you to while away the time between now and Sunday’s match. Have your say in the comments below and feel free to make suggestions as to songs you’re using to pass the time.