With Liverpool not so much marching as limping to Champions League qualification for next season, top four rivals Chelsea dropping points last night was a big bonus. I don’t know how Huddersfield fans watched that last twenty minutes knowing their Premier League survival was up for grabs. I had much less riding on it, and I was a wreck.
Heading every ball, appealing every throw in. Wondering when Laurent Depoitre became the best target man in world football. I was invested to extreme levels. My wife even joined in. Not because she is bothered about Liverpool, or indeed Huddersfield, but because she’s “never liked those Chelsea”. That’s right girl.
Of course, regardless of the result, Liverpool just needed to beat Brighton on Sunday to assure another magical Champions League run next season is possible. But, as we have failed to beat relegated Stoke City and relegated West Brom in recent weeks, having that buffer of a draw is most welcome.
Not least because the Anfield crowd on Sunday would be edgier than a Japanese throwing star if it was 0-0 at half time with us needing a win.
To be fair, the edginess only comes from knowing how much it means for this club to be in the Champions League. For a start, when we do manage to get in it, we rarely just make up the numbers. Fans of Arsenal must be frustrated as hell watching Liverpool waltz straight back in and on to the final having seen their own side suffer years of getting beat by the first decent team they come up against.
Who knew you were actually allowed to win tough knockout games in this competition? Seemingly not them.
And then there’s everything else that comes with Champions League qualification. The big piles of cash, of course. It is also much easier to keep the stars you have and attract the ones you don’t. The summer transfer window actually opens before the final of the Champions League this season and, although we can’t buy a midfielder and put him on the bench (I’ve checked), the rumour mill is in full flow in anticipation of who might be going where and for what.
Mo Salah to Real Madrid stories have conveniently started just before we play them with plenty on hand to give him career advice. Much more fun are links to players coming in, with forward Nabil Fekir thought to be close to agreeing a move to Merseyside this summer.
It says something of the mentality of Liverpool fans that, for all his goals and exciting play, the most shared stories and videos between Reds have been the time he celebrated so aggressively in front of rival fans that he caused a pitch invasion and a delay to the game.
What can I say, we miss Luis Suarez. But the thought of him raising his Liverpool shirt triumphantly to the Gladys Street has got everyone all excited.
But it’s Brighton first, which will decide whether a tiring and depleted Liverpool side go to Kiev with the added pressure of playing for qualification for next year’s competition, or just for the glory and a gorgeous shiny cup.
A whole week off should help. As should the welcome return of Adam Lallana to full training as someone who can at least make a difference from the bench. Also, maybe the thought for players with many miles in their legs that the finish line is in sight is the biggest prize of all.
I don’t know if it is Liverpool’s poor league form, or the sudden ill health of Alex Ferguson, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the Manchester United side of 1999 recently. How did they do it? Sure they had a deeper squad than Liverpool’s, and experience of what it took to win titles. But still, to power through a league campaign going unbeaten from January onwards to win it on the last day.
To stay with a gruelling FA Cup campaign, including a remarkable two match semi final against Arsenal and lift the trophy. And to cope with all the injuries and suspensions of the Champions League campaign to win the cup in the most dramatic fashion. I remember watching that stoppage time win and just being forced to burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.
Everyone who didn’t support Manchester United was delighted when Ferguson retired. Finally he might give someone else a go, we thought. Finally we might be able to get “back on our perch”. But we wanted him gone from management, not gone from the world. Every right minded person will hope he is back in the stands watching football soon, enjoying the game he gave so much too. Even if it was for the wrong club.