Sunday, August 25, 2019

Liverpool 4-1 Norwich City: A Bright Start for the Reds

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Newcomers Norwich City and Champions League winners Liverpool had the honor of opening the 2019/20 Premier League season at Anfield on Friday, August 9, 2019.

Visiting Anfield was rarely a pleasant experience for the Canaries, especially during the days of Luis Suarez for whom scoring hat-tricks against them had become a speciality before he left England for Barcelona in 2014. But even without the controversial Uruguayan to worry about, it was still going to be a difficult 90 minutes for them against the Reds.

Team News

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp called on his team to “stay hungry” ahead of the game and prove themselves capable of winning the elusive Premier League title that escaped them by a single point last time around, despite a very quiet transfer window for the Champions League holders.

There were some doubts over the availability of forward Sadio Mane as the Senegalese apparently lacked a bit of match fitness after joining the team rather late due to his exploits at the African Cup of Nations, and though he was eventually passed for fit, he only made the bench. Midfielder James Milner missed the Community Shield against Manchester City a week earlier due to a muscle strain, but he had recovered in time for the first league game of the season. He too started on the bench.

Alisson Becker was in goal. Virgil van Dijk commanded the back line helped by Joe Gomez by his side, and flanked by Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right and Andy Robertson on the left. Fabinho anchored the midfield, also consisting of Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson. Roberto Firmino led the line upfront, with Divock Origi and Mohamed Salah on either side.

Daniel Farke in the visitors’ dugout revealed he wasn’t all that thrilled to learn his team would be opening the season at Anfield, but he expected his players to remember why they started playing football in the first place, when they faced the team he believes to be the best on the planet. The Norwich boss couldn’t count on centre-backs Timm Klose and Christoph Zimmermann, as well as midfielders Alex Tettey and Louis Thompson.

Tim Krul stood between the posts. Ben Godfrey and Grant Hanley formed the centre-back partnership, with Jamal Lewis on the left and Max Aarons on the right. Kenny McLean and Tom Trybull sat deep in midfield, while Marco Stiepermann played further up. Todd Cantwell and Emiliano Buendia flanked striker Teemu Pukki.

The First Half

Liverpool pressed high right from the start, but despite their reputation for being usually very adept at it, they weren’t finding it easy to dispossess their opponents. Norwich won the Championship title last season by playing a highly polished, technical game, and they dominated possession around the centre early on at the home of the European champions.

However, the home side managed to take control after a few minutes and they reached the opposition box much more quickly than Norwich. But there were no real chances in the opening period; not until the seventh minute anyway.

But in that moment, it all fell apart for the Canaries. Liverpool attacked down the left with Robertson involving Origi on the wing. The Belgian whipped the ball low across the six yards and Hanley’s clumsy attempt at a clearance caught the helpless Krul by surprise as the ball bounced past him and into the net.

1-0.

Norwich weren’t planning on giving up this early, and after Liverpool threatened once more through Firmino, Stiepermann had a chance to shoot from the edge of the box at the other end but he failed to catch the ball the way he wanted to.

Liverpool still mostly dominated and threatened more often; but Norwich were showing signs of intent and created a few promising moments themselves.

Nonetheless, less than 19 minutes were gone when Alexander-Arnold, Salah and Firmino combined on the right, before Firmino slipped the ball in behind for Salah who had no problems in sending it past Krul.

2-0.

Even without Mane on the pitch, Firmino and Salah looked very inspired as they weaved their webs in and around the box, and the visiting defenders were hard put to it to keep their heads above the water.

Norwich still threatened occasionally though, and Pukki almost pounced on a pass in behind Gomez in the 22nd minute, but the flag was raised for offside against him. Three minutes later Buendia had a go from the edge of the box, but the shot was too tame to give Alisson any trouble. It was much harder in the next move when Stiepermann whacked a strong volley on target, but the Brazil goalkeeper was still alert.

Norwich should be credited for their valiant efforts to give Liverpool a proper game. Even two goals down, they played like the game had just started, their belief in themselves being capable of a respectable result never wavering.

But in the 28th minute, Liverpool turned the volume up and added another. Origi and Robertson worked nicely again on the left and won a corner. Alexander-Arnold whipped it in, and van Dijk got to it first.

3-0.

Only a minute later, Alexander-Arnold, Firmino and Krul treated the viewers to a truly spectacular football moment. The young fullback sent a powerful ball into the box from deep; Firmino held his marker off, chested the ball upwards, and caught a full-contact volley on the turn, sending it straight towards the top corner. But it was Krul’s turn to look inspired as he flew through the air and produced a magnificent save.

At the other end, Pukki worked really hard against van Dijk and Gomez, and winning a few corners was not to be scowled at in that predicament as Liverpool kept their guard up.

But the home team weren’t going to have the evening go their way entirely. Minute 37 had just expired when Alisson went down having taken a goal-kick, holding his hamstring. Adrian, who arrived on a free transfer from West Ham less than a week ago, made his competitive debut much sooner than he would have expected.

But if Norwich players thought they would now stand a chance, their hopes were quickly dashed. Liverpool attacked down the right and Henderson returned the ball backwards to Alexander-Arnold. Norwich defenders failed to realize that Firmino had pulled out to the left, making way for Origi to run into the middle of the box. Alexander-Arnold whipped it in again and Origi, escaping his marker, headed calmly past Krul.

4-0.

Salah was also moving into different positions late in the half, floating behind Firmino and Origi like a number 10 and taking on a more creative role. He managed to get his teammates in a few good positions, but the score didn’t change.

The Second Half

Liverpool went and tried to hit hard  straight away. Krul was forced to deny Henderson from near the penalty spot less than three minutes in, and after Salah and Alexander-Arnold did well to recycle the attack and the fullback found Firmino on the far post, the Brazilian made a mess of things, turned awkwardly and squandered the chance.

Norwich threatened from a set-piece soon afterwards but they were caught in Liverpool’s offside trap. Then Cantwell had a go at goal, but he also wasn’t paying attention to the opposition back line as it moved forward.

Klopp’s team soon retook control. In the 54th minute, some excellent counter-pressing gave Salah a chance to score a fifth for his team, but he missed the far post by a hair’s width. Fabinho had a go from distance but Krul was alert. Robertson tried too but missed the target as well.

With absolutely nothing to lose as the hour-mark approached, Farke pulled Stiepermann out and replaced him with Moritz Leitner, who became the first player of the season to pick up a yellow card straight as he came on for tripping Henderson from behind. He almost made full amends (and then some) three minutes later with a powerful shot against the crossbar from a tight angle. But in the 64th minute, Norwich’s brave play finally paid off.

Offside traps had served Liverpool well up to that point, but then Robertson and van Dijk both failed to step out in time to catch Pukki as he latched onto a good pass from Buendia and slotted past Adrian.

4-1.

With 20 minutes to go, Trybull made way for Onel Hernandez for Norwich.

As the game entered its final quarter, the Canaries’ fullbacks were notably growing into the game and gave much more resistance to Liverpool’s attacks down flanks. Both Aarons and Lewis were closing down spaces with much more zest and responsibility.

But Liverpool had no problems with switching their area of penetration to the middle, and first Firmino only just missed the target from the edge of the box, before Alexander-Arnold sent one flying over the bar from long range. Nonetheless, Klopp decided to add some fresh blood to the wide areas and Sadio Mane came on to replace Origi.

It took the Senegalese less than a minute to threaten dangerously as he broke into the box down the left and tried to square it for Firmino on the far post, but Lewis reacted well once more.

But the change of pace on Liverpool’s left wing was very notable. Aarons suddenly wasn’t looking nearly as comfortable as just minutes earlier, especially as Salah also sometimes drifted to that side to overload the Norwich defender. The visitors seemed to be hanging on against conceding a fifth through pure desire displayed by truly commendable work-rate, and it almost paid off again as a sudden long diagonal set Hernandez up for a one-on-one with Alexander-Arnold on the edge of the box. The Norwich substitute managed to take a shot and hit the target, but Adrian made a comfortable save. Buendia was the next to have a go, but he couldn’t trouble the Liverpool backup ‘keeper either.

Several minutes of strong Liverpool pressure followed, but Norwich held on. Farke’s last throw of the dice was the introduction of Josip Drmić for Pukki in the 83rd minute, just before Firmino won a free-kick for Liverpool right on the edge of the box. Salah and Henderson lined up, but it was Alexander-Arnold who made Krul produce another difficult save.

The last five minutes saw James Milner play instead of Firmino as Klopp sought to bring the game to a calm end.

Boosted by a sudden spur of support from the away section of the stands, Norwich went for a second goal late on, and they almost caught Liverpool by surprise, but in the end, the score remained 4-1.

The Afterthought

Liverpool will be pleased with this result. The start of the season brought them instant three points and they were well deserved, but with all due respect to Adrian, Klopp will be looking towards the treatment room in anticipation of news on the injury of his first-choice goalkeeper. His team will now prepare to take on Europa League winners Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday.

The visitors should take heart from this performance. They never shied away, they came to Anfield to play football and it showed. If they keep it up, with a reasonable amount of time to adjust to the Premier League level, they should stand a good chance of another successful season following the Championship triumph last season.

Match Report

LIVERPOOL: Alisson 8 (39′ Adrian 8), van Dijk 7, Gomez 7, Alexander-Arnold 7.5, Robertson 7.5, Fabinho 7, Henderson 7.5, Wijnaldum 7, Origi 7.5 (74′ Mane 8), Salah 8, Firmino 8 (85′ Milner N/A).

NORWICH CITY: Krul 8.5, Godfrey 6, Hanley 6, Lewis 7, Aarons 7, McLean 5.5, Trybull 6 (70′ Hernandez 6), Stiepermann 7 (58′ Leitner 7.5), Cantwell 6.5, Buendia 7.5, Pukki  7.5 (83′ Drmić N/A).

GOALS: Hanley (OG) 7′, Salah 19′, van Dijk 28′, Origi 43′, Pukki 64′.

YELLOW CARDS: Leitner 60′, Buendia 65′.

REFEREE: Michael Oliver.

DATE & VENUE: August 9, 2019, Anfield, Liverpool.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on four different football blogs.

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