7:45am. That’s the time to tune in here in Boston if you want to see Liverpool FC take on Everton FC. And though I could feasibly be at work tonight until 3:30am (that’s if I get the closing section: worst case scenario—I could be out as early as 11pm, but I’m not getting my hopes up until my manager says I am free), I will be at the pub, coffee in hand ready to take in another Merseyside derby.
As I’ve written before: it was a derby match that made me make the Phoenix Landing my home for Liverpool fixtures. Since I get the ESPNs and FSC at home, I had only planned to go to the pub for the Setanta matches. Why bother going out and spending the extra money on food and drink? But standing amongst (then) strangers in red shirts, we writhed together when Sami Hyypia’s strange own goal put us behind. Then we went mad when a foul, a whistle, a Hibbert red card and a Dirk Kuyt penalty kick all put us on terms. When the whole thing all but repeated itself in stoppage time: a hand-ball, a whistle, a Neville red card and a Dirk Kuyt penalty. And these strangers were hugging me and picking me up and we went madder. I knew I’d be at this pub every chance my schedule allowed.
The Landing has even bigger turnouts now than when I first started going. New faces in the latest red shirts keep adding to the throng in our make-shift Kop. I was surprised to see last week’s fixture against Bolton drew in a serious crowd. Not the standing room only we’ll see next time we play Manchester United, but quite a good turnout for Bolton. “Hey, it’s almost a derby,” I said when a friend voiced surprise at the turnout that day.
Tomorrow is hard to gauge. The match is on ESPN2. When an early kick-off lands on a channel most people have, the pub is less likely to hit capacity, but I’m hoping others feel the same derby draw as me. It’s one of those days when I want to be packed in. I know it’s not the same as being at Anfield, but that’s why we love our pub so: it’s the best substitute we have and for the most riveting matches (Everton, Arsenal, United, Chelsea), it’s best when the place is full. And anyway they finally started serving good coffee (their previous brand was functional at best), so there’s really no excuse.
As for the match, it’s going to be another real grind. Combine the struggles Liverpool have had with the fact that the Merseyside derby is never pretty, and you realize it has to be a frustrating outing no matter what. (If Liverpool want to prove me wrong with three sure goals in the first half, I’ll gladly take the relief to my stomach and my nerves over being right as a writer.)
I’m hoping to see a good day from Aquilani (although I have a fear that Rafa will bench him, knowing these matches are rough and Aquaman seems to still be a lingering injury concern). The Italian looked good to me last week. Friends cited some bad passes he made, but I argued that those moments stood out more because we are looking at him with intense scrutiny. If Gerrard missed the same amount of passes but made the same connections that day and provided a similar key assist, we would have had nothing to say on the matter. But with Aquilani, we’re still waiting to see what all that money has bought. We’re looking at everything he does with an intense eye, waiting to see if he’s the next Xabi or just another Lucas. Praying for the former. Wondering if we kept the receipt for the latter.
Fabio Aurelio is supposedly back. I find this comforting. He’s looked one of the best choices on the left wing with Yossi out and as Riera struggles to find his old twists and turns. Also his ability to threaten from a free-kick could make a big difference.
Dirk Kuyt will keep up his intensity. I feel stupid saying something so obvious (the sun will run out of energy before Dirk Kuyt ever does), but his drive will be essential tomorrow. This is the perfect match to push him to play at his best. He and Gerrard remain our biggest goal threats, but as this is the derby, one can expect a strange goal from anybody except maybe Reina (but I wouldn’t even rule that out).
Mascherano’s strike that deflected off Yobo last time out (credited as an own goal) is just the kind of event I’d expect to make the difference in this fixture. Hell, I’d love to see Jamie Carragher score from distance against the side he supported as a boy. Unlikely, yes. But it still wouldn’t surprise me at all. The goals tend to come in unexpected fashions on derby day. A win over our in-town rivals requires a lot of sweat, a ton of grit, and the planets aligning just at the right moment as the player takes a shot on goal. I’ll be tearing my hair out and sprinkling the floor with my fingernails for ninety-plus minutes. But I won’t miss it for anything.