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Work-rate. Incisiveness. Nous. I don't ask for much. This is how it's gonna be. Build from the ground up. A chance to both continue recent momentum and have one foot at Wembley beckons. Since we have relatively few fixtures this month, with a large break coming up, the issue is less to do with availability and more about rhythm. Even if the manager rings the changes, you want to make sure the ones playing are in great shape, able to carry out tactical plans, be brave in trying to make things happen, and be able to think clearly if put under a bit of pressure. The last time the sides met in this fixture at Anfield was in December 2000, in the 5th round. Fulham were then coached by Jean Tigana, and had future Red Steve Finnan playing at right back. Bobby Clark's dad was playing in midfield for them at this time too. It was a pitiful turnout of just over 20,000 watching us slog through without much joy inside 90 minutes. I suspect the weather played a part because I remember it being particularly cold at the time. I was living in Sheffield back then and instead of raining every day as per usual, we seemed to have about 2 weeks of sleet. As the first half of extra time was drawing to a close, Owen finally managed to break the deadlock when he fired home at the second attempt in front of the Kop, after having his initial header saved by Maik Taylor in the Fulham goal. The second half of extra time was more like it, as we turned the screw with Nick Barmby to the fore. First, he cut back for Vladi to fire home past a static Taylor, and then he won the ball 40 yards out and just ran through a knackered Fulham defence to shoot past Taylor. 3-0 it finished. That result put us into the semis against Palace. We would go on to lift the trophy that season, and it was the first of an incredible cup treble for Ged's boys. We played Fulham a month or so ago and we weren't quite at it, especially defensively. We had the strength and mentality needed when it counted though, battling to a 4-3 win featuring some great goals. Fulham have been one of the sides that can look dangerous and dynamic one week, and insipid the next. It's highly likely that Chelsea will get past Middlesbrough in the other semi, so Fulham's motivation is not just a potential final, but one against their West London rivals. Take that possibility away from them. I think we will select a similar team to the one that played at Arsenal, except with Queef in goal. We might also see Diogo and Grav start this one. Whatever the picks, take the game seriously and look to leave Fulham with far too big a challenge back at their place a fortnight later. Motivation, concentration, attitude and application to be absolutely dialled up to 11, from first minute to last. Get it done!
Work-rate. Incisiveness. Nous. I don't ask for much. This is how it's gonna be. Build from the ground up. The further we go in the Europa League, the more Sunday 2:00pm games we're likely to have. Unless it's a big fixture that Sky want for their Super Sunday slot, we'll be the early game and most likely won't be televised. Having guaranteed top spot in the group thus avoiding the play-off round in February against a Champions League dropout, we don't really need to put any oomph into our last game in Belgium against Union SG. There will be greater focus on the league fixtures up to the winter break in early January. In that spell, we also have a League Cup quarter final against West Ham, plus I think the FA Cup 3rd Round is before the winter break. A chance to maintain our current momentum and even build on it. Last season's game against Fulham was decided by a first half Mo penalty after a clumsy foul on Darwin, who nicked the ball off a dithering defender who was about to hoof the ball clear and ended up making contact with the Uruguayan chaos merchant instead. Mo blasted his spot kick straight down the middle. We didn't create a great deal, and Ali had to be alert to make two decent saves from efforts by Carlos Vinicius. Prior to his goal, Mo had also had our best chance of the first half when he got in behind on the right and tried to loft to ball over the keeper from a very narrow angle. I can't blame him for going for it as he has shown himself to be fully capable of scoring from there. In the second half, our only moment of note was a low effort wide from 25 yards by Hendo. Fulham lost Mitrovic in the summer and came close to losing Palhinha too. Both were key to the team being comfortably safe last season, with the goalscoring prowess of the former being aided by the all-action defensive midfield shield of the latter. He is a good player is Palhinha, but I can't help think he's a bit Morgan Schneiderlin. Looks very good in a mid-table set-up but as soon as he goes up a level, he looks ordinary. If Palhinha follows the Schneiderlin route and ends up at Everton, he's definitely gone wrong somewhere! They've added Jimenez from Wolves and still have the likes of Willian, Wilson and De Cordova-Reid, but goals have been more of an issue for them this season. They needed a couple of contentious VAR calls against Wolves to get the win on Monday night. We have probably been on the end of the worst VAR intervention but Wolves are out on their own in terms of how many times they've been screwed over by VAR, especially this season. You never hear of the Howard Webb apology tour winding its way over to Wolverhampton though. Maybe SYP have a long-standing beef with their West Midlands counterparts. Ali and Diogo will be out for this one, and Robbo and Thiago are still to return to training. Queef will start in goal, and I think the midfield against LASK will all be on the bench as we go with Mac, Dom and Curtis. Harvey can consider himself unfortunate were he to be benched as he has been very good in the last few weeks, including international duty with the under 21s. Whatever the line-up, the concentration, motivation, attitude and applicable need to be spot-on from first minute to last. 3 points please. Get it done!
And so to the real start of the season. It doesn’t feel like that long since the end of the last as the past couple of months have practically flown by. We’ve seen the departure of a club legend (Sadio, in case you were wondering!) and a couple of cult heroes (Div and Taki, in case you were wondering!), and also seen the addition of a change of tack in the forward line plus a youngster who could be a star in the making. Oh, and Mo finally signed his contract extension. A little bit of a state of flux is always needed to keep things from going stale, but a total overhaul would have been a massive risk. It’s a Saturday lunchtime start down in London and while it was scheduled several weeks ago, the ongoing public transport issues may well cause problems for fans travelling south, never mind trying to get around London. Anyway: Nous. Organisation. Class. Order. Tactical flexibility. Tenacity. Audacity. Grit. Intelligence. Nerve. Gumption. I don’t ask for much. It’s a stadium that has seen a new stand go up over the past couple of seasons, and it is likely to be ready for the start of this one. While the stadium itself is pretty ordinary, it does have a couple of nice features (the Cottage itself in one corner, plus the listed facade on one side) and it’s in a really nice part of town. Our games at the Cottage have been a little topsy turvy it must be said. Some games we’ve utterly dominated and won handsomely, and others where we’ve been put under the cosh and not been 100% focussed ourselves. In early May 2011, then-caretaker boss Kenny took the Reds down to west London in very good form. The on and off-field problems of the autumn and winter looked a thing of the past. We had new owners, a rebuilt forward line and there were signs of life to be optimistic about. Record signing Carroll had only been involved sporadically due to ongoing fitness issues, but our other big winter signing had hit the ground running. Not so much in terms of goals, but in terms of general play. He was a total menace and completely unlike anything we’ve had before or since. Suarez and his unique combination of outrageous skill, utter will to win and street-smart wiliness made him a pest for defenders for the whole 90 minutes. They could never switch off against him, and that is mentally tough to keep doing. It was fellow South American attacking midfielder Maxi Rodriguez who was in the middle of a purple patch. Throughout his career he had always racked up very good goalscoring numbers for a player in his position, and it was largely down to his ability to find space and his composure in front of goal. At Fulham, he would bag his second hat-trick in a fortnight (he’d registered 3 against Birmingham at Anfield too) in a highly entertaining game. Suarez ran clear down the left in the early stages. His low ball across the six yard box was deflected onto his own post by a Fulham defender, and Maxi was on hand to fire the loose ball home. Just a few minutes later he doubled our lead, volleying in at the far post unmarked. Dirk got in on the act to make it 3-0, smashing a low shot in at the near post from the right corner of the area. Schwarzer in goal made a right hash of his attempt to save it, letting the ball go right through him at the near post. Dembele pulled one back for Fulham, but Maxi blasted a 30-yard rocket into the roof of the net for his third and the points were absolutely safe. Suarez had done everything but score thus far, and he was not going to be denied here. He got on the end of a great through ball, rounded the keeper and rolled it into the net for 5-1. There was still time for Sidwell to fire in a cracking second goal for Fulham past Pepe from 25 yards, but the game was long over. Liverpool’s fans were bouncing in the stand, and within days Kenny would be announced as permanent manager. The final 2 games were a damp squib as the players went into on-the-beach mode, so in hindsight maybe that announcement should have been delayed until the season had ended. Maxi and Dirk had been important to the team’s revival post-Owl, but they would find themselves marginalised from this point on. The goals from the Fulham game can be seen here from 15:15. Norse god Thor would be the latest MCU character to get the big screen treatment, with the Asgardian hammer wielder sitting atop the box office in May 2011. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Thor starred Chris Hemsworth in the title role, supported by Natalie Portman as Jane his love interest, Anthony Hopkins as Thor’s father, the Norse god Odin, and Tom Hiddleston as mischievous adoptive brother Loki. It’s entertaining and fun, a good start to the Thor franchise, but not the best in the series (I still think that is Thor: Ragnarok). The MCU is very good with the energy in its films, and loves a big explosive scene, but the other thing they generally do better than the DCU is humour. This one is but one example. The big news story on 9th May 2011 was Pakistan’s prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani issuing a warning to the United States and President Obama about protecting the country’s airspace following American forces’ capture and killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden a week earlier, who’d been in hiding in a compound outside Abbottabad in the country. The warning stemmed from humiliation that the terrorist had been hiding in their country this whole time, humiliation that the Americans were able to mount a covert operation inside Pakistani airspace, and worries over the notion that Pakistan was aiding and abetting terrorists in their own country. Gilani vehemently denied collaborating with al-Qaeda. Much like with Saddam Hussein’s capture, news of Bin Laden’s demise came out of the blue a little even though there had been a regular trickle of news about the wanted man’s whereabouts and that the US were trying to do something about it. Queef and Diogo will be missing for this game, but Jurgen has stated that he hopes Ali will be back. The Brazilian has missed most of pre-season after picking up a knock in the first pre-season friendly against United, so hopefully he is now ready to return. In addition to that, I hope we see more of the intensity and sharpness we saw for large parts of the game against City. Fulham have been very much a yo-yo team in recent years, too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League. They’ve got Liverpool old boy Harry Wilson in their ranks, and will be hoping Mitrovic continues where he left off last season when he was busy tearing the second tier a new arsehole. They’ve lost creative fulcrum Phil 2.0 to us though. It shouldn’t matter what they do. If our players have the right focus and do the right things, we can start the season with 3 points. We have what it takes, so just go and do it.