Tomorrow, Newcastle plays Liverpool at Anfield, the same place Alan Pardew made his managerial debut with our club (a 3-1 win, I might add). This game holds special significance for all of us. First, we're neck and neck with Liverpool on the table, so we can't afford to drop points. Second, Newcastle and Liverpool have a fierce rivalry, including a couple of 4-3 classics in the mid 90's that were some of the finest fixtures ever played in the Premier League. The spectre of those classics looms large every time we take the field against the Reds, so the atmosphere is always more electric than just another West Brom clash. Finally, my father and best friend (a curmudgeonly, balding Jew from New Jersey who looks vaguely like this) are both die hard Liverpool fans, so naturally I have more invested in this game than usual.
Our good buddy SamFels over at Anfield Asylum has agreed to do a question and answer exchange before the match. You can find my half of the answers here, and can see some very insightful commentary from a Liverpool fan following the jump. [Disclaimer: SamFels did get a tad a salty with his language, and the spirit of artistic integrity, I've decided not to bleep it. Besides, we're Newcastle fans, so &^%$ it, right?]
1. At 8-7-3, how has the season matched up to your expectations so far? Was 6th on the table where you expected Liverpool to be, or were you looking for higher? Do you think the current Liverpool squad is a Champions League club?
I guess in the end they're right about where I thought, just haven't got there the way I thought. Before the season, I expected liverpool to compete for fourth spot all the way to the end, with a decent shout of coming away with it, and that's where they are. The frustrating thing is it could be so much better, based on the piss poor results they've gotten at home. So preseason expectations somewhat met are clashing with where the evidence suggests they could and should be. But then again, if they were better than this, wouldn't they have gotten those results? Are they a Champions League club? I don't know. On paper they look just short, but on the field they vary from looking totally worthy to not even close. Definitely a step farther away without Lucas and Gerrard, though. And in the attacking positions, there's Suarez and....a bunch of pluggers, really. They definitely need improvement in attacking midfield before I totally buy in, though I can see where Shelvey and Henderson could be that one day. But it is not this day, Aragorn.
2. Since King Kenny came in, along with new ownership, Liverpool seems to have new look, feel, and swagger to their play. What has the difference under Dalglish and Fenway Group compared to Rafa/Hodgeson and Hicks and Gillette felt like? What are some of the tangible changes you've noticed?
First, everyone seems happy to be there. In Rafa's last year and under Hodgson, there was just this feeling that everyone was miserable and were thinking about other places. Some actually went, i.e. Chelsea's non-scoring #9. But there was a palpable feeling of standing in place. Under Kenny and FSG, even if it's not going as fast as the supporters might like, or the club itself, there's a feeling of growth and expectation. It makes a huge difference to the club. It translates to the pitch when a club seemingly has no hope of moving forward. You can see it, and you're probably familiar with it at St. James. As for just on the field matters, Dalglish at least tries to attack, which Hodgson never did, and FSG has at least provided funds, which Statler and Waldorf rarely did. And at least FSG have admitted their less than knowledgeable ways about football and have tried to hire people around them to make up for that, which the previous regime was too stubborn to do.
3. We might as well talk about it... what's your reaction to the Suarez situation? What is your stance on what he said, how Liverpool reacted, and the F.A.'s final decision?
It's all been a farce to me. Let me get this out of the way: Suarez's defense of cultural difference, while having some truth to it, doesn't excuse him totally. Even a hint of racism in football should not be tolerated. If the FA allowed that excuse, god knows what future shenanigans could slide under that precedent. So it had to be dealt with. But everything else was a joke. The length of time it took? How long does it take to find out what everyone on the pitch, players and refs, heard? And then listen to Evra's and Suarez's story? Isn't that like, a day? I couldn't help but feel the FA was dragging it out to make it look how serious they were about racism, to make it a heaving, turning point case. "Look at how careful we're being!" Secondly, the punishment was far too harsh, given the reasonable explanation that Suarez had. He should have been suspended, but half of what he got could have been considered slightly excessive. Again, this felt like the FA playing to the crowd in punishing what had become an unpopular player, thanks to the drawn out nature of the investigation and the media's constant harping on Suarez's theatrics and such (which admittedly are a bit much at times, but he's not Dracula as some would have you believe). As for Liverpool's reaction? I don't understand that uproar either. Both fans and club felt Suarez was treated unfairly, and sought to support him. What were they supposed to do, disown him? If the players who know him are sure he's not the monster being portrayed, well that's good enough for me. It just felt like everyone and their mother wanted to get out in front of this and in front of a camera to prove how much they are against racism, It felt in the same field as Nebraska and Penn State all praying together on the field right after the Penn State abhorrence began, not in a bid to do anything other than to try and out anti-child rape other cases, instead of doing what was necessary and firing everyone. Though that was far worse than Suarez, obviously.
4. Since you made us a very, very rich club in 2011, we should probably discuss what you paid for. How have Carroll and Enrique been since their transplants to Anfield? Do you think it was worth the money? Any other Newcastle players you've got your eyes on for 35 million dollar coup this coming transfer window?
Funny guy. Enrique's been a godsend, though his performances recently have slightly dipped. But he's defensively sound, gets forward, can put in a good cross. And even though he doesn't look all that quick, he seemingly never gets beaten for pace. Probably the best LB in the league behind Ashley Cole this season.
Carroll is obviously a much harder study. First, I don't think the price tag argument is fair. Thanks to Chelsea's favorite useless sub and his transfer request about 18 minutes before the deadline, Liverpool were up against it. They needed someone quick, and available. So the price was inflated by the deadline tax, and of course by the young British tax. Makes it wholly inflated. What can you do, though? Then Carroll wasn't fit, they rushed him back to justify everything, and you get what you got last season. This season, Carroll hasn't gotten all that many looks, though to be fair he hasn't earned that many. If any good comes out of this Suarez thing, it'll be Carroll's first extended run in the team and we may be able to provide a full judgement. It's awfully hard on a forward to throw him out there a game or two, say, "Fuck, he doesn't score.", pack him up for a couple weeks, throw him back out there briefly and then expect him to score and complain when he doesn't. That said, Carroll has looked a half-step behind the passing and movement game Liverpool want to play. Secondly, he almost never got to play with Liverpool's best crosser, which is Downing, so you've basically taken his best weapon away. Can I answer this in February?
5. Who has been Liverpool's MVP so far this season?
Lucas. Which is why it's a real problem that he's now gone. He improves every facet of the game, shielding the defense, blunting attacks, and keeping the midfield ticking over. There's a reason he's first choice for Brazil.
6. And finally.... what's that final gonna be!?
Everything at Anfield ends 1-1. But this is Newcastle, right? Fuck it, 4-3 to the Reds.
Again, thanks to Anfield Asylum and SemFels. Their site is awesome, won't you check it out?
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