29 September 2012

Liverpool 5-2 Norwich

Suarez 2' 38' 57'
Şahin 48'
Morison 61'
Gerrard 68'
Holt 87'

“When you’ve got the ball 65, 70 percent of the time it’s a football death for the other team. We’re not at that stage yet, but that’s what we’ll get to. It’s death by football.”

Brendan Rodgers

After that, Brendan Rodgers could do a convincing impression of that awful Verizon guy from a few years back. "Can you hear me now? Good."

Liverpool had 67% possession today, the highest total in the six league matches so far.

Also, it probably couldn't hurt to tell Suarez that every opponent is Norwich. Or just play every match at Carrow Road.

It's the first time Liverpool have scored five in the league since beating Fulham 5-2 in May 2011. 46 fixtures ago. It's also worth noting that it took until the penultimate match to score four in the league last season. And, honestly, as said before, we should have seen more today. Like in this fixture last season, Suarez missed two arguably easier chances on his way to a hat-trick, and should have – but unsurprisingly didn't – win a penalty as well.

I apologize for continually referencing this piece, but, through the last 16 league matches, Liverpool are unbeaten when they score with the first shot on target: four wins and one draw, scoring at least twice in all five games.

It took Suarez just 67 seconds today. Liverpool drew Norwich out with quick passing possession around the halfway line for 30 seconds before Johnson ran at Martin and Surman, trying to find Şahin in the box with a smart through ball. Turner tackled it away, but only to the ever-dangerous Uruguayan. Two touches to hold off Barnett at the top of the box, then a worm-burner which wrong-footed Ruddy. Just the start that Liverpool needed.

And this was just the sort of evolution we needed to see from Liverpool. The impetus and intelligence provided by 18-year-old Suso and 17-year-old Sterling, along with Wisdom, allowed Liverpool to play as Rodgers wants to play. In depressing contrast to the likes of Downing and Enrique, singled out by Rodgers yesterday. The two young attackers were constant threats, well supported by a midfield trio of Allen, Gerrard, and Şahin, with the latter especially impressive in the attacking midfield role.

Norwich had a couple of chances on the counter through Jackson, one well saved by Reina (again with the importance of first shots on target), the other volleyed well over. But Liverpool should have had the chance to extend its lead in the 23rd: a long Agger Reina punt (read: purposeful pass) after Norwich were caught offside, Suarez wriggling behind Barnett, then judo-chopped in the neck by the fumbling center-back. Mike Jones demonstrably waved away appeals. Good thing Brendan Rodgers had that amicable chat with Mike Riley earlier in the week. Insert standard "Suarez has to be shot with a high-powered rifle to win a penalty" sarcasm here.

Thankfully, it didn't take long to get the vital second. Ruddy saved a strong diving header from Gerrard, set up by Suarez's chipped pass, before Suarez spurned his easiest chance of the day, wildly missing the target after Agger's through ball put him one-on-one with the keeper. But 20 seconds later, he unsurprisingly scored from a much-harder chance, stealing the ball from Turner after a short goal kick, nutmegging the defender for good measure, then toe-poking a preposterous curler past the helpless Ruddy. Just full-on mad scientist genius, complete with lab coat, smoking beaker, and Einstein hair. Just oh so Suarez.

Norwich came out much better to start the second half, replacing Jackson with captain Grant Holt, and creating a couple of very good chances somehow not taken: the first unknowingly cleared off the line by Snodgrass, the second a scrambled "how did we not score" when Liverpool couldn't clear a corner, the type of situation that Liverpool fans are all too familiar with. Sadly for the home side, sandwiched in between those chances was Liverpool's third, this time set up rather than scored by Suarez.

Liverpool broke quickly from its own half: Allen immediately looked up when winning possession, feeding Sterling, who raced around Martin and charged into Norwich's half. The winger passed on to Suarez after drawing defenders, allowing the Uruguayan to get to the byline after eluding Turner's attempted tackle. Suarez's first cut-back was cut out, but he made no mistake when given a second chance, putting it on a plate for the on-rushing Şahin, scoring in the second straight game simply because he's clever enough to follow play deep into the opposition penalty area. They reversed provider and scorer roles ten minutes later, another goal which followed Rodgers' template down to the minutiae: Sterling to Gerrard to Suso to Gerrard to Allen to Suso to Şahin to Suarez, Martin backing off like a child who's been burned by the stove once too often, giving the Uruguayan the space for yet another curler from the top of the box. 20 seconds, seven passes, every player in the front six involved, and another picture book goal.

Gerrard added the fifth after Liverpool began a raft of changes, replacing Suso and Şahin with Assaidi and Henderson, set up by Sterling beating Garrido before centering to the captain, the deflection from Barnett giving Ruddy no chance. From there, Liverpool were on cruise control, dominating possession but with less threat than in the first two-thirds of the match, highlighted by Suarez's other missed opportunity, shooting into the side-netting after being released by Gerrard.

That Norwich managed to score twice in the final half an hour takes a bit of gloss off the result. Unlike the previously referenced 5-2, this one was never in doubt; both of Norwich's goals were consolations. But as has happened all too often this season, both Norwich goals were of Liverpool's own making.

The first came before Liverpool's fifth, Reina unable to handle Martin's long range shot, spilled directly to Morison. The second came in the dying minutes, Skrtel – possibly blinded by the sun – totally missed an attempted clearance, allowing Holt to run unopposed at Reina before smartly finishing inside the far post. It didn't matter today, but conceding those types of goal has hurt Liverpool in the past, and will hurt Liverpool in the future if not remedied. It remains a rather large elephant in the room.

But that's literally the only complaint. Another match at Carrow Road, another match ball for Suarez, the only two hat-tricks he's scored and the only Liverpool player to have ever scored a hat-trick in the same away fixture in consecutive seasons. Only Suarez's brilliance kept Şahin from being man of the match, incredibly impressive in a more comfortable attacking role, clearly improving his fitness and form in every fixture. He's got three goals and two assists in the last three matches he's played, with his movement also crucial in Suarez's first today. In addition, his strong play in the attacking role improved Liverpool's midfield balance; both Allen and Gerrard did well in a deeper role, with Şahin and Gerrard also able to switch roles intermittently. Suso and Sterling's contribution again belied their age, while Suso's versatility looks a big benefit, almost as influential out wide as he was in two substitute appearances as an attacking midfielder. Wisdom grew into the game after some early wobbles, Johnson continues to put it outstanding performances on the left. Agger was outstanding, showing no hint of injury troubles and allowed to go forward by Norwich's lack of threat. Skrtel was Skrtel, bruising and burly but with at least one mistake in his system. And while Liverpool conceded twice, including once due to his own mistake, Reina looked closer to the form we know, making two outstanding saves, even if the more-impressive one didn't count due to offsides.

So, Liverpool are finally off the mark, and in some style. Still, matches will come much harder than this one. There will assuredly be matches where Suarez isn't as prolific, even if his strike rate has vastly improved on the whole, with five goals in the first six matches. But like this fixture last season, this could be an aberrant false dawn if Liverpool don't take advantage of the result, building on the team-wide improvements demonstrated against an often-dire opponent.


Nigel Humphreys said...

In the same you couldn't be too disheartened about the performances to date you can't be too excited about this performance either. However, with every game you can see B.R.'s blueprint looking more and more clear. It's likely to be a rollercoaster few months but already feels enjoyable.

Biggestfandownunder said...

Thanks Nate. Always an insightful, interesting read.

Genusfrog said...

Nate, how come you didn't put us down as purple and white in your graphic? You gotta be fair to our third kit, buddy. It's ugly as hell, but they wore it on the day! :D

nate said...

Because I will always put Liverpool in red in those diagrams unless that kit clash makes it too hard to read. The only times I've been forced to change so far is Hearts and Sunderland away. It won't happen often.

No matter how ugly that third kit is, though, I'll stop complaining about it if they play like that every time it's worn.