The 1st match of the brand new season and I could not have been closer, the front row of the Main Stand in the final seat prior to the Kop End. Optimism was in the air, as was rain on the journey along the East Lancs from St Helens to the ground. Thankfully the sun came out and so did the reds in fine form and with emphatic force as the final result became Liverpool’s best post-war opening day Anfield win.
A usual pre-match walk around the ground saw LFCTV presenter Claire Rourke in the Anfield shop with her parents who adorned replica Liverpool shirts. As is the norm, there were a large number of shirts from Transalpino and Walton Breck Road based Hat Scarf or a Badge. The Red All Over The Land fanzine was being sold at various points around the stadium and walking through the Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand car park, numerous cars were being driven in and parked much to the excitement of many supporters as Joel Matip arrived only to be swathed by Stewards who kept the crowds at bay as he was led in via the accessible entrance close to the Shankly Gates.
I also ran into so many familiar faces on my walk, so many reds I have come to know over the years of travelling to games at Anfield and around the country, to which my work colleague who accompanied me to the game remarked “Is there anybody you don’t know”. I laughed it off but it is just a measure of the family reach with Liverpool that 1 common interest can spawn so many connections. It was also the 1st home game since the passing of Yvonne Mcleod, a red who literally went everywhere with Liverpool, so despite the joyous scenes in the car park outside, there was a little sadness that in the table in the middle of the Sandon, there was not that usual welcoming face to greet you and catch up after the summer.
As it was the 1st match of the new season, I headed in slightly early than a normal matchday and got to my seat just before the warm ups. Loris Karius was in touching distance as he put in a number of crosses close to the corner flag to test our new goalkeeper Alisson Becker. There was no animosity towards the German, just warm applause as he warmed up. The 1st team followed shortly afterwards and James Milner led his side out sporting a black headband to protect the stitches earned during a bruising pre-season encounter against Napoli.
Supporters who had been in Kiev would have been delighted to hear Dua Lipa’s One Kiss play as it evoked memories of the Champions League final, where despite the result, the Liverpool end singing along to the tune is one of the memories. The players took to the field and after the pre match handshakes had taken place, it was time for the first rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone of the new season. The toss went against Liverpool, with West Ham electing to make Liverpool attack the Kop in the 1st half. All of the pre-match and build up to the season had painted Liverpool as real contenders for the title and the closest of challengers to Manchester City and on the performance that was about to follow, it was clear why as Liverpool picked up on their form from last season and recorded their highest opening day home league victory since 1932. Those expecting a slow start were blown out of the water in a fashion that set the tone for the whole game. With referee Anthony Taylor blowing to start the match where the Anfield clock stated the time was 13:29 and before it had even changed to 13:30, it could easily have been 1-0. With chants of Allez Allez Allez ringing out from the Kop, Trent Alexander-Arnold launched a throw in which Firmino tried to lift over his head for a team mate but unfortunately for Liverpool, nobody could reach it until Sadio Mane wearing his new squad number wasn’t too far away from connecting. Trent Alexander-Arnold returning after the World Cup put a number of balls over from the right hand side and I thought that we may have got a goal from one of those at some point during the game however James Milner seemed to be involved everytime I looked showing that just like a fine wine, he has got better with age.
It was Milner, who put in a lovely ball from the right begging for a touch from one of Liverpool’s front 3 but somehow neither managed to get a connection but it was instantly forgotten as Naby Keita impressed as following a run, he opted to play the ball out wide for Robertson to deliver a perfect ball first time for Salah to tuck home at the far post much to the delight of Anfield. The next talking point of note, the referees performance leading to the pantomime villain of Felipe Anderson being booed at his every touch until he was replaced by a former Manchester United player in Javier Hernandez who in turn received the usual Anfield welcome. There were numerous occasions the referee performance irked the Anfield crowd although none probably as much as the decision to book Alexander-Arnold for a block on Felipe Anderson who went down liked he’d been shot from what looked like a simple brush of the face as Trent tried to protect the ball. He didn’t let it phase and when Liverpool got a free-kick, the right back stepped up and was so close to scoring on the opening day only to be denied by a fantastic save by Lukas Fabianski that was applauded by all sections of the ground. It was quite clear that it would be a case of when, not if Liverpool got the 2nd goal and as the board went up to signal the additional time, having failed to add to Salah’s goal in the preceding 25 minutes or so, despite almost total domination including what looked to be a certain Salah goal from tap in range where Fabianski denied him.
The perfect time to score they say is right before half time and that’s what Liverpool did to totally soil any plans that Pellegrini had to try and salvage the game. Salah attempted to put a ball across the box but it was blocked to Andy Robertson who put a ball over almost everybody but James Milner failed to give up the cause, brilliantly keeping it in play right in front where I sat, turning the ball to Sadio Mane who just had to connect with it to double the advantage. The 2nd half was very much the same effect with West Ham very limited in anything they offered. Sadio Mane made it 3 shortly into the 2nd half when Firmino found him brilliantly to turn and fire home for his 2nd. Liverpool could have scored more and frustrations at the referee grew as Liverpool were forced to hold up play when West Ham ended up with 2 players down from their efforts to stop Liverpool grabbing a 4th goal as Milner and Salah efforts hit Wilshere and Noble. The frustration and anger grew as the return ball found it’s way nearer to Alisson than the position that play was stopped meaning West Ham had been granted a reprieve but Liverpool refused to settle for 3 and kept attacking.
A young supporter found his way past stewards to run on to give Mo Salah a hug in scenes to bring a smile as past season scenes of stewards chasing invaders was non-existent and Salah gave him the hug and a nice friendly chat before the supporter scampered off the pitch and back to the stands promoting cheers from the crowd until his inevitable removal causing more booing. In the wake of all this, Xherdan Shaqiri made his competitive debut for Liverpool replacing the 2 goal hero Sadio Mane. The final subsitution saw Daniel Sturridge, a player who had looked certain for the exit before a glittering showing in pre-season and his impact was immediate as he scored with his 1st touch, turning home a corner from James Milner via a deflection off a defender and how great it was to see that dance once again and a smile on the face of Daniel Sturridge. Keeping him fit and firing could truly be the best of all the summer signings despite the outlay on Keita, Shaqiri, Fabinho and Alisson.
The final whistle signalled the perfect start to the season and although it is daft to look so early at a table, it is so nice to see Liverpool in 1st position and here’s to the mighty reds finishing top of the pile after 38 games rather than just 1. The 1st away of the season is next up for the Reds at Crystal Palace where they will come face to face with former manager Roy Hodgson. Having beaten 1 London side to open their campaign, it would truly be lovely to start the travels with 1 too.