by Mike Hammond

When I was growing up, there was one team who dominated the football landscape. Both domestically and on the continent they swept aside the competition in a way that perhaps only Barcelona has since matched.

Now, I’m not comparing Liverpool to the Catalan kings, for one thing – at least as far as I know, there is no mass emptying of sports shops and jewellers in cities where the ‘Blaugranes’ have been in town. I suppose you could say they both displayed a voracious appetite for collecting silverware (in all senses of the term in Liverpool’s case).

Liverpool FC have accrued an impressive 18 League championships, 7 FA Cups & League Cups as well as an incredible 5 European Cups – the last of which occurred in the most fantastic of circumstances in Istanbul. That May night, I took a phone call from a mate who was on a boat, traversing the Boshporous. He was joyous and uncomprehending in equal measure having witnessed probably the most amazing comeback of all time.

What neither of us would have thought that night, was that from that point on Liverpool would collect only one more major trophy, an FA Cup win in 2006, a feat memorably matched by the blues in May. During that same period, our clubs have begun different trajectories. City are on an upward sky blue curve whilst Liverpool’s stock has fallen considerably.

This season has shown a continuation of this pattern. The Citizens are in pole position to claim the Premier League title, whilst not even Kenny Dalglish would be crazy enough to state that the reds hold similar ambitions. Indeed, I’ll wager that even the most ardent scouser couldn’t maintain with a straight face that the Anfield club will achieve a top 4 finish.

If Dalglish hadn’t been so cautious, the game could and perhaps should have been all over.

From the outside looking in, King Kenny has looked like a man losing the plot. His staunch defence of Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing have bordered on the ridiculous, almost to the point of self destruction. Whilst the less that is said of his continued support, in the face of overwhelming evidence, of Luis Suarez the better. When you combine this with a team who have managed only 9 wins in the 22 matches they have played this season, we get the picture of a club in no-man’s land, drifting along with a hapless captain at the helm.

This brings us on to Wednesday night. City have had something of a blip in recent weeks, not helped by a number of high profile refereeing controversies. But despite this, the blues have got back on track in the league, winning their last 3 games. The reds will arrive on the back of a dispiriting defeat at Bolton. A team who had only managed to win one game at home all season prior to this weekend. Ex player John Aldridge claimed that “The players let the fans down big time on Saturday. It really was unbelievable just how badly they performed”

The teams go into the match pretty evenly poised. Liverpool clearly hold the upper hand, having triumphed 1-0 at The Etihad thanks to Steven Gerrard’s 12th minute spot kick. But what struck me on that night was that City were there for the taking. If Dalglish hadn’t been so cautious, the game could and perhaps should have been all over. I can’t see us playing that badly again, so let’s hope Kenny will live to rue his ultra-defensive approach.

Will Liverpool play as badly as they did at Bolton? I would like to think so, but somehow I doubt it. I do know that I really can’t wait. It’s going to be a tremendous atmosphere; no doubt the red scarves
will line the Kop from top to bottom as “You’ll never walk alone” is sung loud into the night. At the Anfield road end, 6,000 blues will be belting out “Blue Moon” as we look to make our fourth appearance at Wembley in less than a year. Incidentally Liverpool have never set foot in the redeveloped home of football, and I’d like to keep it that way.

Prediction Liverpool 1 Manchester City 2 – AET City win on away goals.

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