The Proper Football Is Back!

The good news is that the World Cup is over. There will forever be a debate about whether the country’s sports washing exercise was a successful one, with many believing that a spotlight has been shone on Qatar’s human rights record that wasn’t there before the tournament. Others, myself included, believe that, years from now, people won’t talk about the workers that died building the stadiums or the members of the LGBTQ+ community who spent the past month living in fear whilst attending football matches. Instead, the ‘greatest World Cup final ever’ will be what people discuss around Qatar. I’ve put that in quotes because it’s what I’ve seen people referring to last night as; I wouldn’t know as I didn’t watch a second of it. If you think that FIFA won’t use the excuse of that as a reason to host future World Cups in oppressive regimes with appalling human rights records then I’m afraid you haven’t been paying attention. They’ll go where the money is.

I’ve written before about my reasons for boycotting this World Cup, so I won’t go over the same ground again. What I will do, though, is repeat my refrain that sports washing only works when people say they want to ‘concentrate on the football’ and ignore bad things happening off the pitch in order to do so. We know that countless migrant workers died building the stadiums, that workers were grossly underpaid and that members of the LGBTQ+ community aren’t allowed to live freely and sagely there, but it’s all ok because Lionel Messi finally proved he’s the G.O.A.T. There will be many people reading this that think I’m wrong, but I’d love to know what, exactly, you think happened during this World Cup to dissuade a corrupt organisation like FIFA to hold another World Cup in a human rights abusing nation at some point in the future. Gianni Infantino’s speech on the eve of the tournament suggests that the organisation has learnt nothing. Neither, it seems, have we.

The Reds Are Back On Thursday

The really good news as far as I’m concerned is that Liverpool are back in action on Thursday night. Whilst I’d very much rather that we weren’t playing away at Manchester City, the League Cup match at least presents us with an opportunity to knock out one of the favourites in an attempt to defend our title. It will also allow Jürgen Klopp and his team to figure out where some players are in their fitness, given the madness of this mid-season break. Obviously Ibrahima Konaté won’t be playing, but many of the other players that flew off to Qatar should be back and won’t be too physically drained from the experience. Whether they were mentally drained by seeing their country knocked out of the biggest international tournament on the planet is a different matter. If so, the manager will be reluctant to see them knocked out of another competition so hot on the heels of that, but then the possibility of making it past Man City might be too tempting for him to ignore.

As I wrote last week, the League Cup will open up nicely for either Liverpool or Man City, thanks to the teams that have already been knocked out as well as the draw for the next round. Given the poor start to the season, it would be entirely fair for the manager to want to focus on the Premier League. The problem is, the poor start also means that we’re not in a position to be sniffy about possible silverware. The Champions League draw means that we’re faced with arguably the toughest opponent we could get in Europe’s premier competition. As with City in the League Cup, if we can make it past Real Madrid then we’ll be well fancied to make it all the way. Get knocked out by City on Thursday, however, and our chances of winning the Champions League will diminish by way of the pressure that will be put on that tournament as a result. The FA Cup is also a way we can win silverware, but the League Cup is in front of us now with a relatively clear path.

Which Liverpool Will We See For The Second Part Of The Season?

Having not watching any football for the best part of a month, I’m looking forward to seeing my team play again. I have to admit to being slightly concerned about what we’re going to watch, though. The Reds haven’t been at their best this season, but the manager has now had a couple of weeks to work with the players and get them primed for a top four chase. Those that know me know that I’m a big fan of the TV show The West Wing. In the episode ‘Game On’, C.J. Cregg has a line about which President is going to turn up to take part in the debate. She says, “it depends who shows up. If it’s Uncle Fluffy, we’ve got problems.” That is how I feel about Liverpool at the moment. When the Reds turn up playing the way we know they can, there is very little I’m worried about in terms of the team that we’re facing or what we’re going to see. If it’s the ‘Uncle Fluffy’ version of the team, however, then we end up losing to the likes of Nottingham Forest and Leeds United.

Manchester City are a more difficult team to play than Aston Villa, but let’s not forget that Steven Gerrard isn’t Villa manager anymore and Unai Emery is someone who knows how to get the best out of a talented bunch of players. The Premier League re-starts on Boxing Day and that fixture means that we’ve got two tough games on the bounce. Win them both and we’ll be well placed to head into the new year feeling confident that our early season form was just a blip. If Uncle Fluffy turns up, however, then there’s no question that we’ll all be concerned about how the second half of the season is likely to pan out. My hope is that the manager has been working well with the team and with his backroom staff to ensure that we’re at our fighting best, coming out swinging against two strong teams to prove that silverware could yet be on our plates for the season. As C.J. says, it could be a ‘sight to see’ if that’s the case. Most importantly, though, the Reds are back.

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