At the Riverside Stadium, I was able to enjoy what is sadly a rare pleasure for me: getting to attend a Liverpool match in person. It was a good match and a very positive performance, so I could write about how Liverpool comprehensively outclassed Middlesbrough and were, in no way, flattered by the 3-0 score line, but I won’t.
I could also write about how a centre-back pairing of Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan had my nerves jingling before kick-off, but they went on to have a comfortable and relatively calm and assured outing, rarely looking in trouble. Not to mention how impressive Klavan was in possession at times. Alternatively, I could write about how visions of Simon Mignolet’s previous indiscretions were flying through my mind as I witnessed him almost fall over the ball during the warm up. However, he went on to give a positive display, with the little he had to deal with.
It would be easy to write about how well Adam Lallana played and how he has been transformed from the technically gifted, but momentum killing player who got into great positions, but then seemed uncertain of what to do next. He’s gone from being a ‘nearly’ player who nearly scored or nearly set up a goal, to a player regularly scoring and assisting after moving into a deeper role that better utilises his work rate and technical qualities, coupled with a more direct and ruthless style. I shall not be expanding on that though. Equally, I will not be going into how all of Liverpool’s play went through Jordan Henderson and how he relentlessly kept the play moving and opened the pitch up at times to keep Boro chasing a ball they rarely won back.
I could talk about how Boro tried to attack Nathaniel Clyne to little effect, before realising they would get more change out of targeting James Milner defensively, though both full-backs aided the attacks quite well. I could, but I won’t. The same goes for what I found to be a slightly disappointing display from Georginio Wijnaldum, particularly in attacking areas.
I will not even elaborate on how the front three lacked enough incisive movement in the first half and, other than Divock Origi playing a superb reverse pass through for Sadio Mane, they just didn’t seem to ‘click’ until the second half, when Roberto Firmino roamed more and they ripped the Boro defence apart at times, to give hope that the loss of Philippe Coutinho won’t be too impactful.
Instead, want to tell you about how this game was very personal to me and reminded me of some of the things that I love about the game of football, why it is so special and still has me emotionally invested after all these years. This was my youngest son’s first ever Liverpool match, the first time he’d ever been to a game and he absolutely loved it. The smile on his face as he soaked up the atmosphere and danced along to the Reds fans singing “we are Liverpool, tra la la la la” simply melted my heart. For a 7 year old who has never really been that much into football (unlike his big brother), it was like an awakening. Despite not getting to see his favourite player, Coutinho, he had the time of his life.
I will admit that the pre-match hot dog and good supply of juice and sweets throughout did add to the experience of wonderment at a floodlit stadium full of fans singing, chanting and cheering. It brought back to me his big brother enjoying the same experience some eight years earlier, as well as my own, which was many more years previous than I care to remember.
“Can we go again Dad?” was like music to my ears; he was bitten by the bug, drawn in by sights and sounds of thousands of Liverpool fans singing from start to finish. Seeing the players and Jürgen Klopp come to applaud the fans and hand over match shirts further cemented it.
So, Middlesbrough 0-3 Liverpool was a very good game of football that provided many great discussion points, but for me it was so much more; it was a very personal experience that only emphasised just why I love this sport so much.