Partisan Alert: Full-time Liverpool fan Alex Bingle gives his views on whether or not he can bring himself to be a part-time Chelsea fan ahead of their meeting at Anfield on Sunday. May contain language United fans find offensive.
I had a flashback last night. It’s late on at the Bernabeu, a tense stalemate in the Champions League. Fabio Aurelio places the ball before whipping in a fierce left-footed cross into a packed penalty area. And who’s there to meet the ball? The smallest man on the pitch, Yossi Benayoun, heading the ball past Spain’s number one goalkeeper to put Liverpool 1-0 up.
“Dream on Scouser! You didn’t even get through the group stage”.
Just over 12 months ago, this was reality as Liverpool eased past Real Madrid into the last 8 of Europe’s elite competition. How times have changed. A completely different reality has come to pass as we await another nervy Anfield night in Europe’s “second rate” competition against Madrid’s “second rate” team. Don’t get me wrong, Atletico have some decent players and you could easily say Simao and Aguero are world class and very worthy opponents. But if you had said to me back in September: “Oi Scouser! Come May, your team are gonna be playing in the Europa League and be seventh in the league behind City, Villa and even Spurs…ha!”, I would have laughed you down.
But who’s laughing now? With depressing familiarity, it’s the same group who taunted me throughout childhood every Monday morning when I trudged into school: Man Utd fans (kids at the time too, obviously). They have finally caught up in the League Championship count and have a chance of overtaking our “magnificent 18” this year. And yet, Liverpool could have a major say in the whole matter as we play host to Chelsea on Sunday. Do we roll over, let Chelsea win and keep United at bay for another season? Or do we go out with pride, beat Chelsea, keep our faint hopes of Champions League qualification alive and potentially hand United the initiative in the title chase.
When asked by United fans, my gut reaction is to say that I hope we lose and gift Chelsea the league. Rather them than Utd right? ABMU! Very much like in 1995 against Blackburn, when Redknapp curled in a sublime free kick and the whole of Anfield as one shouted “What are you doing?!!!”, a winner on Sunday may meet with a similar reaction.
In an ideal world, there will be some divine intervention earlier in the day at the Stadium of Light, meaning we can beat Chelsea without fear of handing United the advantage. Please God, anything…a dodgy penalty decision, a couple of red cards (both for Neville, if possible), hey…maybe even a beach ball?
But, if you ask me what I honestly want to happen on Sunday, I want us to beat Chelsea. I want to see the fighting spirit of Stevie and Carra that has typified many a Liverpool performance over the last five years but has been sadly lacking this year. If we lose on Sunday with little more than a whimper, I will be disappointed and angry to say the least, never mind the bitter consolation that the league title will be all but beyond United.
My sentiments are divided over Europe too. Who would begrudge Fulham victory if an all-English Europa League final does materialise? No one could claim that they don’t deserve it. They’ve been better than Liverpool and that’s a fact. The Liverpool fans would applaud Fulham and show the same pride we want to see from the players against Chelsea on Sunday.
I want to be able to hold my head high as a Liverpool fan this summer when I swap my red shirt for my England jersey. Maybe we will finish fourth and qualify for the Champions League. We might even have a European trophy. It’s been a bad season and it has not been good enough by the standards we set last year. Even if we do celebrate European glory in Hamburg, the Bernabeu will remain a distant memory.