The phoney war is over; pre-season done and dusted. It’s time for the real stuff to begin and for Reds fans the feeling is as fresh as the lush green turf we’ll see for the first time since May. There’s nothing quite like Anfield on the opening day of a new campaign.
What adds to the lustre of a first home game is a real opponent. West Ham United might not be a force but they’re a proper club. If you fancy a friendly pint – though back in the day it might not have been so cordial – pop into The Arkles and have a chat with the Hammers. Most of their away lads will have the same feel for the game as us; the more senior ones nostalgic for old battles and the younger element nurtured by history lessons on two grand old football institutions.
West Ham fans won’t be confident. Despite their high travelling spirits, they’re imbued with an Anfield sense of doom. Just one win at our place since 1963. That was as recent as August 2015 when a shock 0-3 reverse sounded the bell that tolled for Brendan Rodgers. But, of late, twelve goals shipped to the Reds in the last three league games between the sides, and twin 4-1 tonkings last season make Liverpool overwhelming favourites.
The Reds have dazzled in pre-season so it’s hard to imagine anything less than three points. Most supporters will turn up thinking not so much “If we win….” as by how many.
The main imponderables surround selection; Jurgen Klopp’s thinking confused by fitness levels. He has monitored a conveyor belt of returnees into John Lennon airport every week since late June, from rest and holiday and a mish mash of World Cup frustration and disappointment, limited playing time and unfulfilled shots at glory.
The only certainty is that Alisson Becker will start. The Kop has a vacant heart to lend to a keeper who fills the goal, commands and dominates and takes his time. We trust that the timidity of Simon Mignolet and the hurry-skurry, scrambled brain of Loris Karius are soon distant memories. My word, do we crave an idol in front of us who brings us some peace of mind. The Brazilian – like many of our players – is a big fan of God and he’s come to the right church.
Sadio Mane – star turn in the Champions League Final – is brim full of Asha. He tormented the Torino back line on Wednesday and is raring to go. The Senegalese trades in wonder goals and it would be no surprise to see him carry the attacking mantle on Sunday.
“Bobby” Firmino looks just a little off the pace, despite his deflected goal in midweek, but he does tend to traipse around a pitch; a cat stalking its prey, even at his sharpest. He looked tired in Kyiv, had a relatively long stint in Russia and may take a few games before we see him at his most dazzling.
The warm up matches have shown glimpses of the Mo Salah we took to our hearts last season. The nasty shoulder injury – and double heartache of being unable to perform fully at the pinnacle of the European and World game – behind him. He might not be quite at full pelt but you wouldn’t bet against him kissing the Anfield turf in celebration at the weekend.
New boy Xherdan Shaqiri could be anything. If he applies himself he could be Anfield’s next cult hero. His enormous powerful backside, 360 degree spins, remarkable balance and sweet left peg give us a John Barnes or Maradona-lite. Watching him in a red shirt might just be a delight.
As ever, we’re hopeful. As Jurgen Klopp enters a fourth Liverpool season – still with a duck to break – we’re now expectant.
Up the Reds.
*Odds are subject to change.