Norwich City were given a very difficult task at their return to the Premier League. They faced the same opponent in the campaign opener as the last time they were in the English top flight. Back then, they were beaten 4-1 at Anfield; this time, Liverpool came to Carrow Road and walked away with all the points again on Saturday as Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah bagged a goal each to make the scoreline 0-3.
Mo Salah breaks another record
The Canaries were probably happier than anyone when Liverpool sold Luis Suarez to Barcelona in 2014. The brilliant Uruguayan striker was always on fire against them, at either venue, frequently scoring hat-tricks (or more) and causing their players and supporters immense frustration.
But Liverpool are a different kind of beast nowadays altogether, and Mo Salah has been the most obvious contributor to their success in the last few years. The Egyptian broke the Premier League record for goals in a single season straight upon arrival, hitting the net on 32 occasions in 2017-18, and this match saw him break another record. He is now the only player ever to have scored in five consecutive Premier League openers.
His 74th-minute goal was a great strike, but it certainly wasn’t the only notable moment he blessed the away supporters with; he assisted both Jota in the 26th and Firmino in the 65th minute of the match. He was a constant threat for the Norwich defence, working as well as ever with Trent Alexander-Arnold on that right flank.
There have been many great attacking players in Liverpool’s illustrious history, and Mo Salah’s place among them is beyond debate.
Van Dijk returns
Liverpool’s title defence efforts last season were shattered by a heavy injury crisis in the centre-back department. It started with Everton goalkeeper causing serious knee injury to Virgil van Dijk last October, and the big Dutchman hadn’t played a competitive match since then, until this Saturday.
The Netherlands captain didn’t have too much to do on his return to action as Liverpool mostly kept the hosts busy at the other end of the pitch, but he dealt with everything that came his way calmly, in his recognizable style. It should be said that Joel Matip also performed very well beside him, as did goalkeeper Alisson Becker, whose incredible save late on ruined the only real chance Norwich had of scoring.
With Andy Robertson, Liverpool’s long-term starting left-back, ruled out with an ankle injury, many eyes were turned towards Kostas Tsimikas, wondering if the Greek would be able to do a decent job of standing in for the Scotland captain.
In the end, the occasion proved they needn’t have worried too much. It was indeed a fine overall performance from the 25-year-old, though there were a few signs of lacking Premier League experience, despite being with the Reds for over a year now.
Manager Jurgen Klopp explained more than once that he couldn’t use Tsimikas as often as he would’ve liked last season. The centre-back crisis left the back line shaken enough and he simply didn’t consider it wise to rotate his fullbacks too much under those circumstances, and with Robertson fit for most of the campaign, there was no room for Tsimikas.
This time around, he was thrown forcibly into action straight away, and he did well enough, proving that missing Robertson shouldn’t be too much of a worry at this point. There were one or two questionable moments in his game, where Robertson would likely have done better, but no consequences emerged from them.
It seems the days of James Milner playing left-back are truly a thing of the past now.
Todd Cantwell was frequently catching the eye with fine performances for Norwich during their last spell in the Premier League, and links with bigger clubs (Liverpool among them) understandably emerged. The midfielder played well in this match again, proving the only Norwich player to have caused the opposition worry on several occasions.
If he continues in that manner throughout the campaign, those links are sure to appear again. The only question regarding his overall quality is an apparent lack of physical strength, but we’ve seen players like that bulk up in time and he shouldn’t worry about that too much. He’s still only 23, and most importantly, he already knows how to play at this level.
Norwich probably hadn’t hoped to come away from this clash with anything to show for but a dose of resilience in the face of one of the best teams in the league, and they won’t be too bothered by the defeat, convincing though it was.
What Daniel Farke and his men will likely try to do this season is win points where it seems more doable, according to their stature and team quality, which means beating others whose sole goal is to stay in the top flight at the end.
On the other hand, Liverpool are fighting to regain the crown, which would see them equal Manchester United’s record of 20 league titles. Much has been said about their apparent lack of transfer activities this summer, particularly compared to Manchester City, United and Chelsea spending vast amounts on the likes of Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Romelu Lukaku.
However, it should be pointed out that these three teams, like Liverpool, signed just one player each likely to compete for or improve their starting XI. Also, Liverpool seem the only team among them to have addressed a genuine issue from last season by signing centre-back Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig.
Many still claim Liverpool lack squad depth, but it should also be said the Merseysiders played this match without the likes of Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara, Konate, Joe Gomez and Robertson, and that they still had players like Firmino, Fabinho, and young talent Harvey Elliott to bring on from the bench.
Chelsea are very strong, as are the two Manchester teams. But if you’re writing Liverpool off from the title race already, you’re doing so at your peril.
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