In the latest Talking Reds, Daniel Rhodes explains the range of emotions he felt during and after Sunday's game with Manchester United.
Liverpool against Manchester United is a massive - arguably the biggest - game in the Premier League calendar. At Old Trafford, we traditionally lose, usually by the odd goal - in the dying minutes. Before the season started, in this light-hearted competition called TTT Predicts, put together by Andrew Beasley, I also thought we would lose. Partly as a coping-mechanism, partly because they won the league last year, partly because nobody knew the true impact a manager could have on a team. It is the kind of game you look for when the fixtures come out, plan ahead for, making sure nothing interrupts your potential enjoyment of the game - other than, of course, the game itself.
The build-up for last Sunday's game started after the final whistle at St Mary's against Southampton; 14 full days of wait, 15 sleeps. Like football Christmas, without the advent calendar. All we had to cope was the league table, to stare at, for ages, which is far better than cheap chocolate on a December morning, especially when Liverpool sit in second place.
Day four (March 5):
The international break was a chance to kill some time - England against Denmark, a friendly, with five Liverpool players starting for the home team - that should instil pride and satisfaction - instead, I flinch every time a tackle comes in on any of Henderson, Gerrard, Johnson, Sterling or Sturridge. The worry is too much to take so I turn it off; time to look at the stats for some solace. How have Liverpool fared against similar opposition this season? Taking into account all the sides in the top seven, when Liverpool played away from home, the average stats for the key metrics were very close: Our Opponents managed (10 chances) - Liverpool (8); shots (14 - 13); shots on target (6 - 5). The rest were all very similar, so what do the stats say?
Stats: 'Tight, close, pretty even, tough game for both sides, it could go either way.'
Me: 'Thanks stats, you've helped, not at all.'
Current mood: a draw.
Day five (March 6):
No reported injuries after the international friendlies; great news. Sturridge scored the winner at Wembley and Sterling won the man-of-the-match award; excellent.
Current mood: bullish, three points in the bag.
Day seven (March 8):
Moyes's side travel to West Brom, a tricky fixture at the Hawthorns, and one we managed to lose last season. It also represents the last time we dropped points in the league this campaign. The United side impress with a 3-0 away victory. The jitters creep in. They're about to find their rhythm.
Chelsea also hammer Tottenham 4-0 in the evening kick-off, the title race is off. I knew it was a bad idea to sit through these games.
Current mood: obviously going to lose.
Day eight (March 9):
Less than a week to go, and it is amazing how much time and thought is going into this game, by this one fan, with absolutely no influence on the event I'm thinking about. It cannot be healthy. It's not just me though, the vast majority of Liverpool supporters I follow on Twitter seem to be constantly tweeting about the game, my friends, on TTT, podcast pundits and even supporters of other clubs. Many of them with the same thoughts: we should win. The negativity of yesterday is fleeting, and whichever way I look at it, we look like the stronger side going into the fixture.
Current mood: obviously going to win.
Day 12 (March 13):
The Fink Tank is a statistical model; it attempts to predict each Premier League match using a formula you can find (here), it says we have a 28 per cent chance of winning. That is terrible news. After three days of bullish bliss, I'm sent crashing to earth with a statistical, predictable, bang. There has to be other ways of predicting these games, other models to match the optimism many fans are feeling. The Euro Club Index, more predictions, more disappointment: home win 53 per cent, draw 29 per cent, and then the away win that seemed within touching distance a few days ago, now reduced to 18 per cent. The bookies restore a little faith, and have the match fairly even, in percentage terms, with United and Liverpool within 3 per cent of each other (although the home team still have the edge). I check TTT Predicts from the opening paragraph, how pessimistic or optimistic were Liverpool fans before the season began? Only 1.5 per cent thought a win was the most likely outcome. No chance, we are doomed.
Current mood: statistically dejected.
Day before the big game (March 15):
This confidence will not go away though. In addition, while (defeats in the last four league games at Old Trafford) certain (losing away at Man City, Arsenal and Man City) negative (the statistical predictions) thoughts keep trying to creep in, it is impossible to ignore the positives: Spurs away, Everton and Arsenal at home and perhaps more crucially, the late win against Fulham. Even the most optimistic Liverpool fan cannot have predicted a season where we would be top scorers in the league at the beginning of March, involved in the most exciting games, thrashing our supposed bogey teams, on a points total, at this stage, better than any Liverpool side in over 20 years. Our expectations have been lifted, to the point where we feel confident going to Old Trafford. That is a remarkable achievement.
Day after the big game (March 17):
If you have read as many match reports as me since the game, you probably didn't want to read another one. Match reports, opinion pieces, more podcasts than the day will allow, the game again, the highlights twice, the post-match interviews with the managers, and now onto the next big game. A game, away at Cardiff City, that is much bigger than the one at Old Trafford. Because, as I've started to realise this past fortnight, it wasn't the opponent that made it so nerve-wracking, 15 sleeps before it started, it wasn't even the rivalry; it was this season, and the title race. History suggests we should be nowhere near this league title, but with each passing win, the expectations rise, and it feels that tiny bit closer, and it feels like this team can make history rather than read about it. One game at a time is the cliché. A cliché we need to remember, before we combust with excitement. A game where, depending on the day, I predict a draw, a home win and then, finally, after thinking about it some more: an away win in Cardiff. The next step.