Ahead of the visit of reigning Premier League champions Liverpool to South London this weekend, TEB had a chat with our pal ALEXEY YAROSHEVSKY on the title win last season, views on the match at Selhurst and much more.
Q. How did you rate the very much disrupted last campaign for Liverpool?
With a mixture of overwhelming delight and profound sadness. Surely, when you’ve been waiting for the Premier League title all your life, you wouldn’t care much if it was won without fans going mental in the stands at Anfield. But this was just the case with me and many Reds I know – we were absolutely blown away by the pre-pandemic part of the season, but after football went into lockdown it turned into a nervous wait. Still, over the moon it ended with Jordan Henderson lifting the coveted prize at Anfield, although celebrating it at home on a Zoom call with several dozen Reds from across the world felt somewhat weird. But the pre-lockdown part of that campaign was absolutely phenomenal. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a stronger Liverpool side
Q. It must have been difficult not being able to celebrate a first title in so long due to the pandemic, right?
Yeah, it was tough – chugging whiskey by myself at my garage in the middle of the night after Chelsea beat City! On the other hand, due to the lockdown, we immediately organised a Zoom call with fellow Reds in Australia, the US, Africa and everywhere across Europe. This massive global online party would not have been possible if the lockdown was not in place. Plus, right after the title was sealed, it coincided with the lockdown being partially lifted in Moscow, so local Reds gathered for a massive party offline for the next game after #19 was confirmed! Liverpool were hungover, lost heavily against Manchester City, but no-one cared. Best party in ages!
Q. What was the general view heading into the new season and what were the expectations?
Obviously, hoping to reinforce the title with another one, especially with phenomenal signings in Thiago and Jota. But soon after the hard reality kicked in, Liverpool suffered the worst injury crisis under Klopp, with the likes of van Dijk, Gomez, Thiago and now Jota out for lengthy spells. At this stage, it is almost a miracle – or a testament to LFC’s rather brilliant man management and youth system of the last several seasons – that the club is still top of the table and qualified into the knockouts of the Champions League.
I wouldn’t say expectations are still as high as they were when the season started – obviously driven by euphoria of the much-anticipated title. I’d say most of the fans I know are taking it one game at a time, considering how strange this season has been already. 7-2 loss to Aston Villa is not something we’d see every year. Or even 50 years. The fact that Liverpool are still top of the league having lost half of its best XI due to injuries, however, gives us a big hope we can repeat last season’s success.
Q. It was a peculiar summer transfer window for everyone, but how active were Liverpool and are there any areas that will need attention in January?
Think Liverpool did extremely well in the summer, having managed to address one of the most problematic areas – cover for one of our prolific and hard-working wing-backs – by signing Tsimikas. On top of that, Klopp added a great deal of variety to both midfield and attack by signing Champions League winner Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota from Wolves. The former has unfortunately been sidelined with injuries and is yet to be unleashed fully in the New Year, but the latter has been an outstanding purchase, already scoring bags of goals. Both, however, are unavailable for the game at Selhurst.
Importantly enough, Liverpool also managed to keep the key players, which includes Gini Wijnaldum, who was strongly linked with a move to Barca. But after the injury crisis in defence hit the team, the club will have to solve the center-back issue in January with both van Dijk and Gomez being out for most of the season, while Matip is very injury-prone. Fabinho has done an excellent job filling in at center-back, but we all know that his stronger position lies in defensive midfield. So a solid center-back is an absolute priority now if the club is willing to push for a consecutive League title.
Q. We are keen to see young players coming through the ranks here at TEB so is there anyone that we should keep an eye on who could make the breakthrough into the Liverpool first eleven?
There are a couple of names already coming from the academy who have impressed many at Liverpool, but I’d say Curtis Jones is definitely the one in the limelight. Slow injection into the team last season has led to the lad starting much more games this season, bagging a few good goals in the process. Nearly scored a beauty against Fulham last week and played all 90 minutes. And then followed by a MOTM performance against Spurs at Anfield. So that boy has matured really well and fully expect him to start against Palace too. And don’t forget that Trent Alexander-Arnold, also the product of the Liverpool Academy, is still a very young player, despite already being considered as one of the best wing-backs in the league already.
Q. The Premier League has looked pretty open so far this season, do you see that continuing into being the most open title race for years?
This is a very strange season, in which Liverpool crash and burn in Birmingham in the same weekend that Manchester United get humiliated at home by Spurs. Even this week, heavy favourites dropped points to underdogs. So literally anything can happen this season – I would go as far as saying it lies in the realm of possibility that Spurs or Leicester (or even one of the Manchester teams) could win it this term.
Q. A fully loaded question but we wanted to get your opinion on absence of fans, Project Big Picture and the European Premier League?
I’m a major opponent of all three, in fact. Hate to see football drifting away into murky waters with initiatives like that, think it has already become way too commercialised and projects like that can only do harm, in my opinion. So I was borderline shocked to find out that my club was among the driving forces of that, so happy all other clubs saved us the embarrassment, at least for now.
As for the fans, it’s been horrible to watch games without them present, especially coupled with dubious VAR decisions and injuries to players. I was on the verge of giving up watching football this season, to be frank! The fact that fans have returned – albeit in small numbers – is such a welcome sight! You could immediately feel the difference, particularly at Selhurst Park, where players went out of their way to claim a point against Spurs. I think their desire to get back into that game was largely driven by fans in the stands. Some try to discount the psychological factor of fan pressure on players, but I think it’s hugely important and many results this season would’ve been different if fans were out there all along. It’s a pity that the initial decision to allow fans in has now been reversed in some parts of the land, including London. Hopefully that won’t be for long.
Q. What do you make of Palace this season?
Palace are very soild, as usual. I assume Palace fans can argue some of the results so far could’ve been better, like the ones against Newcastle and Burnley, but Palace are still a very formidable opponent. Not just for Liverpool (who always have a bit of a dread going into games against Palace), but for pretty much any team. Just ask United fans! It is important that Palace have managed to keep key players, namely Zaha, as well as buying a very talented kid Eze and seeing the return of the prodigal son Nathaniel Clyne. I believe the club is in a good place and will upset many opposition teams this season.
Q. Name one player from each team that you believe will be a threat to the opposition in this match.
In the case of Palace I feel the main threat will as always come from Wilfred Zaha, absolutely unplayable on his day. In the case of Liverpool I want to say Salah, but he’s not been too fresh lately (despite scoring quite a few already), so I’d say Mane will be the man to look out for. He’s been on a goal drought for a few games now, so he will be raring to put on a performance and get back to scoring goals.
Q. …and finallly, your all important prediction?
As always, I’m not confident at all going into a game at Selhurst Park – even with fans barred from attending games again, unfortunately – so I do feel this can easily be a draw, hopefully with a few goals in it. In any case, let the best team win and hope that VAR or injuries do not spoil the day for either side!