On the heels of another international break, we all wanted to see Liverpool run out and lay down a marker at The Etihad. Instead what we saw was a high boot and John Moss, together ensuring that wasn’t meant to be. And while some of that sour taste may linger, we would all be better off putting Saturday behind us, knowing that it was always the return of the Champions League—the proper Champions League, the group stages of the Champions League—to Anfield that would mean the curtain had risen and it was time for the Reds to once again take center stage.
Putting aside Brendan Rodgers’ ill-fated foray back in 2014/15 which saw the Reds roundly embarrassed, Liverpool Football Club have spent eight years wandering the wilderness, a certain numb resignation arriving at some point in the spring of each and every season, the Champions League again slipping out of reach and this once grand club descending a little further into mediocrity.
To be sure, 2014/15 was a wondrous sliver of a fever dream–akin to Thomas Mann’s chapter “Snow” in the Magic Mountain, where Hans’ hallucinations enable him to see both the reason and recklessness that comprises all human endeavour, a balance that Brendan Rodgers’ side only just lost. And as swiftly as Hans’ dream was ended, our own dreams of retaking Liverpool’s European perch were swiftly put to bed, a glorious return met with a damp squib of an opening.
The Reds were very much not back, they had very much not retaken center stage and, unknowingly continuing to await the arrival of Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool listed, adrift without real direction, purpose, or rhythm.
Football has long been a game susceptible to description using a language shared by the criticism of art, food, or music, which makes a kind of sense, as the sublime is perhaps only capable of illumination through oblique description. Language is an imperfect tool at its best, and to describe to anyone the feeling elicited by moments of athletic perfection is as impossible as professing true love with simple words.
It’s no wonder that club anthems, player chants, and opposition taunts are set to song: few things galvanize a mass of frenzied energy better; and there may be no greater sight than the Kop in full voice.
Successful campaigns, like much of the best football, have a certain rhythm. Tuesday-Saturday; Mane to Bobby to Salah; Wednesday-Sunday; Emre to Jordadn to Phil; a beat-long rest for domestic cup games; a downbeat for make or break CL fixtures; a grace note for moments of impossible beauty, each competition a movement in the season’s symphony.
For nearly two decades, the Reds were Europe’s pre-eminent force, and 350–500 million Reds worldwide, depending on whom you ask, are the product thereof, rendering hollow the protestations of a small but vocal cadre of fans who unironically hold up five fingers while decrying foreign pilgrimages to Anfield, their holiest of grounds. Past iterations of our beloved, all-conquering Reds played with the ferocity and pugnaciousness laced with moments of beauty, much like the best works of the western canon.
Later teams foundered, attempting to play a more individual brand of football, which was not necessarily hard on the eyes—they at least understood that pass and move is the Liverpool groove, after all—but it was only with the arrival of Rafa Benitez and the attendant imposition of team commitment that saw us ascend once again to those previous heights, minting another generation of Reds the globe over.
The arrival of Jurgen has more than a few of us dreaming again. And it’s not least because this team has both a certain swagger that reminds this author of nothing so much as a willingness to dance with the ball for the sheer joy of it, as the Brazilians have known football was always meant to be, and also a steely desire to disrupt and obliterate opponents, ensuring there is no rhythm but that laid down by Liverpool.
So as the game draws near, pour your favorite vintage, turn on your favorite prep music, beg Maxi to run down the wing, Garcia to drink Sangria, and remember this is the same ground where King Kenny played. It is in this competition that we remind the world that we are Liverpool. It is in this competition that the voice of Anfield strikes fear in the hearts of our opponents. And it is in this competition that we will mint yet another generation of Reds. T-minus 16 hours. Tra, la, fucking la.