Previous Match Infographics: Hull City (a), Everton (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), West Brom (h), Newcastle (a), Crystal Palace (h), Sunderland (a), Southampton (h), Swansea (a), Manchester United (h), Aston Villa (a), Stoke (h)
As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
Here's the formation diagram usually included in the match review, as I didn't do a match review last night. Sorry about that.
Sometimes you just can't legislate for genius. Luis Suarez was the alpha and omega – and every other letter in every other alphabet – of that match.
And without Suarez – more specifically, without Suarez in that form – that's most likely a very, very different match.
Until his first moment of breathtaking, jaw dropping brilliance, Norwich's plan worked surprisingly, depressingly well. For 15 minutes, Liverpool looked disjointed, while Norwich started dangerously, wasting a couple of half chances made from Liverpool's mistakes, with Hull seemingly still fresh in the memories. Just as importantly, the away side were getting bodies behind the ball, blocking Liverpool's first four shots before Henderson tentatively put two decent chances well off-target.
But then Luis Suarez happened. And happened again. And again. And again. And again, but that time as creator rather than finisher.
So, as strange as it sounds, let's remove Suarez from the equation. Liverpool still dominate possession and still take 21 shots, but only six of those 21 were on-target; seven were off-target, and eight were blocked. And four of those 21 shots were set up by Suarez, including Liverpool's final goal. Liverpool's first non-Suarez shot on target wasn't until the 38th minute, Gerrard's easily held effort from around 30 yards out. Liverpool's first clear chance not involving Suarez wasn't until the 52nd minute, Gerrard's diving header parried by Ruddy. Of Liverpool's three best non-Suarez chances, two were brilliantly saved by Ruddy, from Allen and Gerrard, and then Gerrard hit the woodwork with two minutes left in regulation.
If Suarez has an off-day, like against Hull, it's not outside the realm of possibility that Liverpool loses 0-1 thanks to Bradley Johnson's late goal, another Liverpool defensive breakdown, this time as Liverpool let Hull pass across midfield before failing to block Redmond's cross before Johnson beat Agger to the header far too easily. That result would have looked and felt an awful like the Liverpool of 2011-12 or a handful of matches in the first half of last season: well on top in passing, possession, tenor, and tempo, but unable to find the needed goal(s) thanks to opposition keeper excellence and the woodwork. And that's fairly worrisome following Sunday's performance and result.
But yes, there's an awful lot of "if my aunt had testicles, she'd be my uncle" in that line of reasoning. Liverpool did have Luis Suarez yesterday. And Luis Suarez sure was amazing. He won't convert four of seven shots in many matches, but he is converting 25% of all shots this season (13 goals from 52 shots), an absolutely unfathomable rate, light years away from 12.3% last season or 8.6% in 2011-12.
Six of his 11 goals against Norwich have come from outside the box. He's only scored seven other goals from outside the box – so 13 of his 64 in total for Liverpool – direct free kicks against City, Udinese, Zenit (twice), Wigan, and Everton as well as a open play goal against Stoke. Suarez is the first Premier League player to score three hat-tricks against the same club, and the third Liverpool player to score four goals in a Premier League match (Fowler did it twice, Owen once). I swear, he's got Saxon blood somewhere in his family tree, because no one's pillaged East Anglian opposition like this in about 1500 years.
But, despite that genius that I'm really running out of superlatives to describe, it's not as if it was all Suarez and 10 others brought in from the stands. Coutinho made a massive difference, everywhere in Norwich's half and Liverpool's top chance creator, although none of his five shots found the target (two off-target, three blocked). He's getting better and better with each passing minute following his too-long injury absences. Glen Johnson was also vastly improved, much more involved, especially when going forward, than he was on Sunday, creating the same number of chances as Coutinho.
Gerrard and Allen also looked a good pairing in midfield, even though I'm tempted to hold Norwich being allowed to pass across Liverpool's midfield prior to the lone goal against them. Aside from the consolation and those aforementioned early half-chances, Norwich offered little in attack, but Gerrard felt comfortable enough with Allen holding, knew when and where Allen would cover, to get forward more than in any other match this season. He did deserve a goal for his efforts, and that lovely improvised flick off the woodwork would have been a fitting one. And at the same time, each central midfielder made six tackles, a reassuring amount with Lucas left on the bench. As important as I think Lucas is when he's at his best, this partnership looked promising enough to think that dropping the Brazilian is a viable option in certain matches, especially at Anfield when Liverpool expects to monopolize the run of play.