Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 13 – Liverpool

Ahead of Sunday’s Capital One Cup Final, we spoke to the excellent Jim Boardman of Anfield HQ to discuss Liverpool, Manchester City and of course, Sunday’s huge game at Wembley.

First of all Jim, let’s talk about Jurgen Klopp. The man is a bundle of energy, who often looks like he’s taken an ecstasy pill. If he’s not punching snow after a last minute equaliser, he’s appluading and revving up your fans. Since he replaced Brendan Rodgers, what do you think he has changed the most at Liverpool?

We’ve gone from a boardroom-friendly manager to one who is fan-friendly and player-friendly and I think that is a huge difference. The results aren’t massively better overall yet and it’s clear that Jürgen Klopp inherited a squad of much lower quality than any Liverpool manager has in a long time but there are definitely subtle signs of progress.

There’s also an alarming amount of honesty from him, he says it how it is. If Liverpool lose a game he doesn’t start talking like a PR spokesman for a chemical company trying to play down a toxic leak and deflect attention away, he says how bad it was and explains, if he can, what he might do to fix it. He doesn’t pretend it doesn’t matter, he hurts as much as we do. When things go well – you’ve seen what he’s like when things go well. He’s like us.

The biggest difference is that football is real again.

Even as a City fan, can I take a moment to appreciate just how fucking good Roberto Firmino looks? He was absolutely sensational in your recent victory over us, and his ability to slot effortlessly into so many positions has surely been a huge plus point for you this season?

He’s certainly capable of playing in different positions and different roles and doing it well – and that’s what sets him apart from the slightly more expensive Christian Benteke, whose main role these days is on the bench because of his inability to adapt.

He actually had some criticism for the fact he didn’t always play to anything like the level he did at your place, but he’s only 24, he’s playing in a league that’s brand new to him, learning a new language and he had to get used to the idea that the man who signed him for the third highest fee in LFC history was sacked two months later. That’s a lot to have on your plate but he looks to be taking it all in his stride now.

On his day he has the ability to absolutely terrorise opposition defenders and that’s what every football fan wants to see in their team. Imagine what he’s going to be like when he’s settled in!

We need to talk about Raheem. I have to say I was over the moon when we signed him. He’s actually so much better than I thought, possessing so much tactical intelligence. I know you wrote a piece on him for the Mirror claiming you wouldn’t miss him, but how do you think he’s been since his move, and has his decision to leave Liverpool been justified in your eyes?

I was probably angrier with the club than I was with Raheem when he left. I also wrote about that interview he did with the BBC where the point he seemed to be trying to make, somewhat ham-fistedly, was that he wanted to leave Liverpool to go and play for a club where he had a chance of winning things and being involved in the biggest competitions.

How could anyone argue with that? He’s not a born-and-brought-up Liverpool fan, he didn’t even start his youth career with the Reds, so if he was ambitious it’s no surprise he wanted to leave a club that seemed to be saying sixth in the league with no trophies is okay, that Europa League qualification is worth celebrating. If you can’t keep a 20-year-old kid happy what chance have you got attracting the kinds of players you need to get yourself established in the top four and winning things?

I didn’t expect him to get as much football at City as he has, despite the fee paid for him, and for his sake that’s been good to see. Ironically he seems to have had less weight on his shoulders at City instead of being what he was in his last year at Anfield, the player expected to win games single-handedly. How he could be expected to do that when played out of position so often is another matter, but he’s playing where he should be at City and that is also helping him.

He’s always been an old head on young shoulders and his determination to be successful is part of the reason he went to those lengths to leave Anfield. It wasn’t pleasant for us but so far it’s worked for him and I can’t really fault him for that – it’s his life!

Long term he might have got what he wanted if he’d stayed with us but there are no guarantees and with Rodgers keeping his job in the summer success must have looked as far away for him as it did for many of us fans.

He did right, good luck to him.

With yourself having a former manager of a huge Bundesliga club, what do you think of City’s Pep appointment? For me it’s a game changer in English football. It doesn’t guarantee success, but with the tools potentially at his disposal, how do you think he’ll do?

We’ve had a couple of years where the Premier League has been all over the place and there haven’t been any standout teams who stayed that way two seasons running, I’m worried that Pep might be the man that makes City that team.

A lot is said about the money that City have at their disposal but money only gets you past a player’s agent and his current club’s board, it’s what you’ve got to offer after that, when you’re actually talking to the player, that makes the difference. How many players will Pep be able to attract that previously weren’t even thinking of leaving their current clubs? It’s frightening.

I’m trying not to think about it.

Let’s also talk about ticket prices. I doff my cap to Liverpool fans, the recent walkout against Sunderland was fantastic, one which sent a very powerful message to your owners. What has been the result of that? And do you think more clubs should follow suit?

The owners – and perhaps just as importantly their man on the ground here in Liverpool – got to see quite clearly that football fans aren’t customers and that even though we are a captive audience with no intentions of shopping at a competitor’s instead we are not pushovers and we won’t put up with much more of this exploitation. The climbdown was good, although for some seats the cost is actually going to be even more expensive than it was with the £77 plans, so there was a certain amount of spin involved, but nobody will pay more than £59 for general admission next season. Anyone who says ‘only £59’ when talking about a seat at a football match needs their head wobbling though.

I think we can only do so much as Liverpool fans, I think all of us, fans of all clubs, need to start getting a message out that one of the biggest reasons this league sells so well to those bloated media companies is because a massive part of the entertainment value is what happens around the pitch as well as on it. If those of us who’ve been going for years all suddenly found a new hobby the TV companies would desert the sport immediately.

Even allowing for inflation, the cost to get into the Kop at Anfield in the late eighties works out at around £7 each and that’ll be much the same at all the other Premier League clubs. It has to change and, with all the revenue coming in from TV, there is no reason why it can’t.

From a Manchester City point of view, is there an area in Liverpool’s side that we can exploit? Much has been said about your defending from set pieces, but as we’re a side that seemingly never scores from corners, are there any other vulnerabilities that we could potentially “get at”?

One tactic a few teams have tried is to act like they are playing for the draw and let us have the ball for 70 minutes, sitting back and watching as we waste chance after chance, or fail to actually create any, despite apparently having full control of the game. By that stage we’ve basically switched off completely at the back and it doesn’t take much at all for panic to set in if the opposition suddenly decide to start trying to win the game. Hopefully we’ve learned from this by now.

Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?

It’s so hard to predict this game. I know most ‘neutral’ observers seem to have it nailed on as a win for City but I don’t think it’s so cut and dried. What I do think we’ll get is another great game for those neutrals and a few goals too. In my completely impartial opinion I’m going for a 4-3 win for Liverpool!

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