Whatever your view of Liverpool as a football team and Liverpudlians as people, only the most mean-spirited can argue against Anfield being one of the great and historic theatres in which to play or watch the beautiful game.
The 2015 version of Liverpool FC may be a very pale imitation of some of their best sides of the past but still City’s trip there on Sunday surely represents to fans, manager and players alike, the first proper test of nerve and skill in a fitting environment away from Carrow Road.
St. Mary’s and the Stadium of Light have been ticked off to very different levels of satisfaction but these are the shiny new stadia representing the ‘now’ era.
For all the modern features of their architecture and facilities, their girders and bricks are not soaked with the hopes, cheers and groans from many generations of supporter the way that Anfield is. Ditto Carrow Road.
Publicly no doubt Alex Neil will say it’s just another game with three points at stake but I’m sure that inside he’ll be seeing this as his biggest challenge yet in a still fledgling managerial career – bigger than when he took Hamilton to Celtic Park or even the Canaries to another shiny new stadium -Wembley.
But it’s a good time to be going there. With a massive fortune spent by Brendan Rodgers in the past couple of years in an increasingly desperate looking attempt at reviving former glories, there is great unrest on Merseyside at what’s on offer.
This recent article paints a very prickly picture of the Rodgers-era and how his once positive-minded philosophy is crumbling with the pressure of expectation in a manner reminiscent of the collapse of the Lambert-era at Villa.
With their proud record of success receding more and more into the distant past, the Scousers increasingly turn their minds back to their former managers from happier times.
It’s an emotional shackle that doesn’t weigh so heavily on incoming Norwich managers. Clearly our club hasn’t scaled the heights of theirs.
Bill Shankly created the Liverpool that most Kopites dreamily recall and modern ones have the misfortune to be compared with.
Just like that wily Scot did at Liverpool, Neil arrived at Norwich with his new employers in bad shape in the second tier.
Both wasted no time in imprinting their values and expectations on the club, instilling their respective attacking philosophy on the field, and quickly reaping the rewards of promotion.
It did take Shankly a couple of seasons to get promotion but considering and comparing the financial status and resources available to him in the early 60s and those which Neil found at Carrow Road in 2015, Shankly’s achievement was probably the greater one.
It’s dangerous to make the comparison with one of the game’s all-time greats of course – a dynasty was built at Anfield in a way increasingly unlikely in today’s game.
However, Alex Neil seems to share many important character traits with Shanks :discipline, focus, desire, loyalty and courage of convictions being the most obvious.
City’s recent record against Liverpool is dreadful – the last ten meetings back to 1995 have resulted in nine defeats and just one point from 2011 when Grant Holt rose salmon-like in front of the Kop to head home.
While John Ruddy, Russell Martin and Wes Hoolahan survive from that game for us, just Martin Skrtel, the tattooed Terminator, has made it to 2015 for them.
The only win at Anfield in the Premier League era was 1994, courtesy of a trademark Jeremy Goss thunderbolt also in front of a disbelieving Kop;
That was the penultimate game of that season and both mid-table teams had nothing but pride to play for. It was a rare success in the short-lived reign of John Deehan.
This Sunday’s game comes early in the season with points and confidence crucial for the cold wintry months ahead – a very different scenario.
Bournemouth, dismissed with relative ease on Saturday, were mighty unlucky to lose 1-0 at Anfield in August, with both a wrongly disallowed goal for them and a wrongly allowed goal for Liverpool being their undoing. West Ham stunned the Anfield faithful more recently 3-0.
Something somewhere between those two results would do us nicely.
If our boys turn up in the right frame of mind from the first whistle, the ref does his job well and the home crowd get restless, then the points are there for the taking.
While expecting Neil to replicate even a fraction of Bill Shankly’s success may be far-fetched, Sunday’s matchup with Rodgers’ Reds provides a small step along the path to Premier safety and wider recognition for our own Scottish wizard.
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