Suarez 24' 28' 82'
You mean the difference in result is down to the difference in Liverpool's finishing? Amazing.
It's been far too long since Luis Suarez reminded us just what genius he's capable of. Bomb-throwing, mustache-twirling, evil super-villain genius, but genius all the same.
What began as a tepid, end-of-season affair with neither side with much to play for ends in a comfortable 3-0 win, where Liverpool arguably – and unsurprisingly – should have scored more. I know. Don't act surprised. Let's cherish the utter brilliance of the three which went in.
Liverpool started in a 4-2-3-1, with Shelvey playing ahead of Gerrard and Henderson, but the tepid end-of-seasonness ended when Shelvey and Gerrard switched positions. The opening goal was almost immediate, set up by the captain's pressing and a jaw-dropping throughball with the outside of his right foot, finding Suarez between the center-backs. The Uruguayan's strike wasn't bad either, immaculately and strongly curled past Ruddy with his "weaker" foot.
Four minutes later, the same player latched onto to careless passing after a Norwich throw-in with Ward hesitant – not for the last time – bearing down on Ruddy and again perfectly placing his shot, right-footed low into the far corner, hitting the correct part of the post for once. Before the interval, Suarez could have won a penalty (surprise, not given!), accidentally tested Ruddy when mis-controlling on the turn, and was called offside when potentially one-on-one with the keeper despite being in his own half when the ball was played.
Norwich were better in the second half, creating a handful of chances in the opening minutes. But Liverpool also had better chances to score than the two they converted in the first 30 minutes. Suarez mis-kicked Downing's dangerous low cross, with Shelvey heading the rebound onto the crossbar. Shelvey then mis-hit another shot a minute later, the ball bobbling when he dove into the six-yard box. Downing had a right-footed shot well saved, Suarez tried a too cheeky chip when put through and then had a header from a corner cleared off the line. Finally, it was a Liverpool match again. Change is frightening.
And just when it seemed as if the match was dying out, with a couple more Norwich chances, either put wide or blocked by Carragher, Suarez conjured the ultimate capstone. You won't find a more-fitting hat-trick goal, even more audacious than his attempted 63rd-minute chip. And you'll be hard-pressed to find a better hat-trick. Johnson cleared the ball from his own endline, and Suarez latched on near the center circle when Ward couldn't hoof clear. One stride forward, then an unstoppable 45-yard shot over the hopeless Ruddy, all without looking up. More than reminiscent of Alonso's (sigh) goal from midfield against Luton – his first – with the similarity reinforced by an open Gerrard shouting for the ball then standing stunned, applauding. Swiftly removing the goal-scoring hero and the captain for Coates and Kuyt, the lone substitutions made, Liverpool easily, painlessly saw out the final few minutes for an all-too-rare, joyous win.
Even with Suarez's superb finishing, Liverpool needed that bit of help from Norwich, especially on the second and third, both from the helpless Ward. It's proof that you both need luck and make your own luck. Suarez's shots were sublime and Suarez tortured Norwich's back-line into permanent terror, aiding those mistakes. But the mistakes were almost as crucial, and reinforces the belief that fortune's played at least some part in Liverpool's current standing.
A few others deserve special mention. Liverpool's midfield was impressive after the early switch; Shelvey and Henderson held well, with the former unlucky not to score, while Gerrard had much more impact further forward. Carragher also rolled back the years, reading the game flawlessly, making crucial blocks and diving headers. He's deserved the majority of criticism this season, but I'd imagine he knows that as well, and was determined to improve on his FA Cup semi performance.
So, it's relief and it's evidence of what possible from this team and, more specifically from Suarez. Tactics and formation somewhat unimportant, with finishing what counts. Surprise. Which makes for mixed emotions when it comes so late in the season and after what we've seen before. And that it's so late in the season, against an opposition with little to play for, had a role in the result.
Still, it's hard to criticize good and hard to criticize progress. More of the same on Tuesday. And then in a week's time.