Yes, I should be all wound up about the upcoming Arsenal match. Yes, that should be all I think about. But I’m still buzzing from Saturday’s derby. I went from being a shifty mess during the ninety minutes to climbing the walls and swinging from the chandeliers with pure elation once that final whistle blew.
Going into the match I didn’t imagine we’d go down to ten men in the first half. This fixture is famous for its bookings and sendings off, but it seemed like the Merseyside derby had been losing some of the usual brutality lately. Last season’s only ejection came against us when Lucas saw red in the FA Cup replay, but I attributed that more to Lucas’s inexperience rather than the traditional derby venom. This season’s previous Merseyside derby had only one booking: a yellow against Everton’s Heitinga.
But when things got underway at Anfield Saturday, I could see this would be the classic kind of battle that lets the blood and loosens the teeth. Tackles were full force and badly timed. You could see early on, all 22 men were never staying on the pitch for the full 90. Dirk Kuyt took a boot in the face after a hard tackle felled him. Mascherano and Fellaini might have both been sent off by less patient officials. But there came a point when enough was enough and the Ref had to respond. So Soto Kyrgiacos took the long walk after taking Fellaini down (just deserts?) with both feet and studs up.
With Liverpool’s struggles this season, I wouldn’t expect us to grind out a win with only ten men (especially with Torres still out), but, strangely, Kyrgiacos may have done us a favor by earning the booking. His dismissal lit a fire beneath the remaining players. When he left we found an intense focus: keeping serious possession, defending with conviction and battering away at the Everton wall. The Blues rarely looked like they had a man advantage.
And when Dirk Kuyt’s blonde mop popped up between defender and keeper to turn the ball into the net, it felt like the pitch had been flipped upside down. Everything was possible.
Of course it was Dirk. It just had to be him who made the difference. Battered yet relentless. He just won’t stop.
Throughout the match, I died a little inside every time Everton were given a set piece since we’ve been so awful at defending them, but Reina may have been runner-up for man of the match. Great, one-handed saves whenever we needed them.
Winning after going a man down is right up there with a good come-from-behind victory. The red card nearly has the emotional devastation of a goal against. It is a setback with the added suspense of “will they be able to capitalize on our ejection?” The potential energy of imagined goals against sits heavy on the mind. Add that to the unbearable tension that’s woven into a one-nil lead and you can imagine how I writhed and sputtered, watching that grueling derby on only four hours of sleep.
So when Liverpool kept a clean sheet and forced in the winner, this match became one of my favorite all-time derbies. A key win when we needed it. The painful worry that filled me up throughout such a tight, suspenseful contest transformed into pure satisfaction in the end. Torture to watch in the moment, but once it was over, it became the winning lottery ticket.
And so until Wednesday I remain the happy millionaire. In fact: I may not start fretting over Arsenal until tomorrow when I sit down to write my pre-match thoughts. This feeling is too good to sacrifice to the gods of worry just yet.