Without ever quite being the fortress of old, Anfield has become quite the pleasure dome over the last 11 months.
It began with a truly dismal performance by Fulham. 3-0 at half time, a goal from Skrtel, Berbatov in his pyjamas; still, at least you can learn from your mistakes...
Let’s hope the circle hasn’t turned fully and we continue in the same vein. An improving home record could mean the extra dozen points needed to close the gap on our fellow pyrite chasers.
It is a largely neglected benefit of the Istanbul miracle that it gave miseryguts like me the right to call the Champions League a bloated, mediocrity-diluted cash cow. Beforehand all criticism was put down to onlooker’s jealousy.
A win, a final and a semi later and we could say what we pleased. Maybe we’d already spoken volumes with our poor attendances at the opening group games of 2001 and 2004? We know how important the money and prestige is, but as a spectacle for the neutral, it is largely poor fare in the early stages. The new rights payment seems utterly farcical.
Most fans have defective desires to play detective, searching for clues in results or performances that shed light on the future. For now, reds are just enjoying themselves. Not every game has to prove something. If you gleaned any indication of a 2014 triumph from Saturday’s stroll you’re probably seeing what you want to see.
Second place and decent football are to be savoured no doubt, but we are going to need major scalps to stifle the patronising sighs of discouraging strangers. Curiously, Albion and Villa crept into the top 10 so our record in the top half of the table stands up to everyone else’s for now.
Fulham certainly won’t be creeping anywhere but downwards.
They were continually caught in possession and slowed to a craven crawl. Whatever the manager told them clearly wasn’t heeded, always a bad sign. Replacing the dreadful Berbatov may have been Martin Jol’s final act.
Gerrard pretended he was 25 again whilst Coutinho revelled in time and space, Johnson also. It was incredibly easy. We ambled about for 20 minutes before a goal opened the floodgates. Mediocrity and spinelessness seem to be the story of this league too; heads drop with unseemly haste and you even saw a little of that in our Emirates performance. We gave it a go when it was too late.
I think we’re doing well but we’re hardly impregnable, so it was natural to find Fulham’s display rather shameful. Is a player like Berbatov so arrogant that he will take the money but think a bit of effort is beneath him? The United background never helps, but you felt the catcalls for his long overdue substitution sprang from moral nausea.
Suarez has all that skill but the will to win and the aggression (though he goes overboard sometimes!) is equally important. Still, it will be Jol who pays the ultimate price for the Fulham players’ awful attitude, not themselves.
We tried to be blasé about the Chelsea score late on but when you’re looking for a boost, particularly after last week, the difference between second and third can be significant. There are still questions about this team, how it always needs a goal to get the bit between its teeth. Once the visitors shot themselves in the foot, we were rampant.
Until then it had all been a bit dozy. It was as if we had turned up expecting the points. That is a big change in the landscape from a year ago, when you weren’t entirely sure what you were about to watch. The shellacking we gave Fulham last season came as a surprise. This was dreary routine.
No wild predictions this week. Oh just one; if Cissokho plays at Goodison, we’re screwed.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved