R Bennett OG 74'
Every match against Norwich gets better.
We'll just forget the first, wholly undeserved draw at Anfield last season. Then came the 3-0, all Suarez all the time. This season's first saw the 5-2 at Carrow, where Liverpool similarly dominated in attack, more of a team performance again led by a Suarez hat-trick, but also sloppily conceding twice.
This was the culmination of the previous two performances. Another five goals, but with everyone contributing in attack, each goal scored and set up by a different player and a wonderful team-wide performance. Another clean sheet, with just two Norwich chances of note. Liverpool's biggest home win of the season – where they had taken just 18 of an available 39 points – and Liverpool's biggest win since beating Birmingham 5-0 in April 2011.
Tony Barrett summed it up nicely.
Norwich's performance summed up by Jamie Carragher taking almost a minute to get his boot back on without fear of being caught out.— Tony Barrett (@TonyBarretTimes) January 19, 2013
Granted, Liverpool were five up by that point, but this was pretty much done as a contest when Liverpool's second went in. As it should be.
Unlike in the last meeting, it took a marginal amount of time for Liverpool to assert its dominance. They monopolized possession as per usual, but struggled to find a way through Norwich's packed defense. It was still a 4-2-3-1 formation, but with elements of the 4-2-2-2 used by Dalglish in the 2010-11: Suarez lurking dangerous behind Sturridge, popping up all over the pitch, while Henderson was ostensibly on the left but came infield early and often.
Those first 26 minutes saw one of Norwich's few chances: actually the first shot on target registered by either side. Unsurprisingly, it came from a set play, which was where Norwich's danger was always coming from. Snodgrass' deep free kick found Ryan Bennett unmarked between Agger and Wisdom, but his free header went softly straight at Jones. It'd be the last chance Norwich had all half.
You won't be able to tell it from the stat sheet, but Liverpool's opener had an awful lot to do with Luis Suarez. I know, surprising. I'll give you a moment to regain your composure.
Seven of Norwich's nine defenders are focused on Suarez. And rightfully so, I guess, given how he's singlehandedly destroyed them in the last two fixtures. Elliott Bennett finally makes the tackle to dispossess, but it falls kindly for Henderson, who curls an utter beauty past Bunn into the far corner from the penalty arc. Suarez causes the havoc, but let's not downplay the strike. It's just his second of the season, first in the league, fourth in his Liverpool career, and Liverpool are yet to lose a match when he scores.
Ten minutes later, after near constant possession, that man added the crucial second. Again, there's more than enough credit to go around. Liverpool sprung quickly from its own half after a Johnson interception, Lucas played a long throughball aimed for Sturridge but cleverly dummied, freeing Suarez to run on goal and beating Bunn with a left-footed shot just inside the far corner. Incidentally, that was Liverpool's only goal not scored and assisted by an English player.
Norwich's second close call came soon after the restart. Carragher cleared Snodgrass' cross, but straight to Tettey, whose first-time shot was wildly wide, but with Holt in an almost perfect position to redirect into Liverpool's net. He missed. Missed everything, not just the target. Two chances, both untaken. Liverpool still would have won given the form they were in, but like against Sunderland, Liverpool stroll when the opposition miss chances. And, of course, when Liverpool are capable enough to take their own.
The game-killing third came less than ten minutes later, after close calls set up by Johnson and Suarez. With Liverpool camped just outside Norwich's penalty box, Henderson shifted play with a cross-field ball to an open Downing, whose first-time volleyed cross gave Sturridge a tap-in. Those are the sort of blue moon moments where you realize Downing is actually a professional footballer; it really couldn't have been a better hit pass. And it was Sturridge's third in as many Liverpool games, in just 158 minutes, the first Liverpool player to score in his first three games since the legendary Ray Kennedy in 1974-75.
Liverpool weren't satisfied with three, as Gerrard scored his 94th Premier League goal in the 66th, bombing a shot from 25 yards out after Johnson's burst down the left. It's the first time Liverpool have scored with two shots from outside the box since Liverpool last faced Norwich. I really love you, Norwich. You had better stay up.
That marked the beginning of the end, with Rodgers almost immediately bringing on Sterling and Borini for Lucas and Sturridge, the former playing on the left with Henderson dropping into midfield, the latter in a straight swap with Liverpool's newest acquisition. Because it was one of those days where everything simply went according to plan, Liverpool's substitutes paid dividends soon after, again down Liverpool's left, as Johnson flicked on Gerrard's long pass, Sterling easily out-muscled Michael Turner (really) and raced on goal, his shot-cum-center deflected into Norwich's net by Ryan Bennett.
Liverpool mercifully shut down after the fifth, still pressing to ensure they kept possession, but content to play short passes around midfield as Norwich feverishly tapped out, hoping the referee would stop the match.
As against Sunderland, as against Fulham, as against QPR, we'll hear a lot of "well, Norwich really weren't very good." And while there's something in that, especially given the side's results since mid-December, Liverpool did an awful lot to make them look not very good, even more than in those last three comprehensive wins.
As in the second half against United, Suarez was an almost orthodox #10, if unsurprisingly mobile, popping up all over Norwich's half. He continued to link marvelously with Sturridge, highlighted by the second goal, with Sturridge already aware of the exact run Suarez would make with barely a look up. Johnson was pure magic on the left flank, helped by Norwich's lack of attack with both Hoolahan and Pilkington oddly left out, allowing Henderson to play (and play well) as both an inside left and central midfielder. Gerrard could and did bomb forward at will with Lucas back to his security blanket best, with three tackles and four interceptions, averaging nearly a pass a minute as he completed 63 in 69 minutes. Liverpool's two defensive changes – Carragher for Skrtel and Jones for Reina – led to no drop off; Carragher actually seemed to enjoy wrestling with Holt where similar strikers like Benteke, Carlton Cole, and Jon Walters caused Liverpool problems, while Jones made the one needed save and completed more passes than in his previous four starts (if not the 20 Reina evidently needs for Liverpool to win).
Norwich has become the exact opposite of the fabled "bogey side", with Liverpool in top form in each of the last three wins. That it's another win over a bottom-half side means we probably shouldn't get too excited; Liverpool hasn't had many problems beating teams below it. But it's hard not to be optimistic after a performance like that, after the way Sturridge and Suarez linked up in the new formation, after the way Henderson both scored and pressed from the front, after another superlative Gerrard passing performance, after seeing Lucas back to his best and another terrific match from Johnson, after Liverpool's defense was almost totally untroubled.
Progress keeps being made, at least for the time being. Again, that's all we can ask for at this point.