The thrill of business as usual

I’m not typically very sentimental about football. I usually just focus on the game itself and, of course, Liverpool’s results in that game. So, all of the people and especially journalists moaning about how “Football is shit without fans!” didn’t really register with me except when it became so repetitive as to be annoying. Yes, there’s a difference between playing in an echoing empty stadium and playing in front of a screaming horde of enthusiasts. There’s no debating that. The latter is definitely better than the former. But it didn’t mean I enjoyed a number of moments of the previous year-and-a-half any less. We still won the title a season ago. Alisson still put in that astounding header (His first line after today’s match: “I didn’t have to score any goals!”) But, all of that said, yes, it was really, really good to have a packed house at Carrow Road rendered largely silent three times and to have Magee’s mostly filled with all of the usual suspects that I haven’t seen in three months (and a few for longer than that.) In that respect, it was nice to have a return to what used to be normal in the bar, on the pitch, and on the scoreline.

So, yeah, just like two seasons ago (aka the last time Norwich was in the PL; aka the season we won our 19th title), we begin the campaign with a 3-goal win over the Canaries. If you’d like to extrapolate that into this being a “canary in the coal mine” moment for the rest of the league, go ahead. I’m not quite there yet, but it’s hard to to argue with the manager when he cites today’s performance as “just about as good as you can get.” After seeing ManU put Leeds to the sword (including a running fight in the streets between supporters of both sides; “It’s just like the 80s when grandpa did it!”) and Chelsea stroll past Crystal Palace and even The Ev coming from behind to put away Southampton in definitive fashion (That Doucouré goal may have been the best of the day), there was a little bit of a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses feeling at the opening kick. If we couldn’t deal with the flashy but still mostly Championship-level birds comfortably, it would only give more ammo to the Jeremiahs that I was talking about a couple days ago. Thankfully, no such difficulty arose and it was pretty clear for most of the game whom the better side was.

Among that better side was this man, who’s now approaching talismanic level among many LFC supporters. Norwich didn’t test him extensively, but they did give him an opportunity to show off the factor I think we most missed last season, which is his precision long-range passing. He started a number of attacks by feeding Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sadio Mané, and Mo Salah easy balls that they could then use to ruffle the yellow feathers a bit. To Norwich’s extreme credit, like usual, they didn’t abandon their set approach and revert to something awful like next week’s opponent. They largely came out to run with us and the game stayed exciting as a consequence. In tacit recognition of the talent disparity, Norwich was fine with abandoning their press and allowing us to retain the ball (i.e. they were playing on the counter) and Andre Marriner’s whistle did have a hint of playing into the Canaries’ appearance of a band of undernourished waifs who fell over when breathed upon (14-4 in their favor for foul calls.) But I’m pretty sure the result still would’ve been the same either way. This is Norwich’s reality and this is Liverpool’s reality. Welcome back to it on both ends.

Norwich City 0 – 3 Liverpool

Those big blocks on the Norwich side of Caley Graphics’ always-helpful diagram were a pair of spectacular saves by Alisson Becker very late in the match as the Canaries’ pushed for a face-saver. Similarly, the mid-sized pink block on our side was the result of a great shot by Diogo Jota for our first goal in the first half which kind of gets forgotten in the deluge of great action that LFC produced in the second. And a lot of that great action came through the easy pick as man-of-the-match:

Five-season wonder, yo. He’s on 118 league goals for us in 132 fewer games than Ronaldo at ManU, just to pluck a couple names out of a hat. We might’ve had four in this one if he’d gone ahead and taken another shot late in the game and hadn’t tried to get another assist to Sadio, as well; just to tweak all the “selfish Mo” morons who are still waiting breathlessly for their chance to pipe up. But there were many accolades to go around, including to those who’ve been waiting to shine:

Kostas Tsmikas finally got the chance to show us what he was about in this pre-season and now did so in an actual competitive game, as well. There was some concern about how he’d do against a real opponent when Andy Robertson went down with his ankle issue. Those concerns were answered. He had a bit of a fumble late in the second half that gave Norwich a chance, but that also produced what I thought was a highlight of the game when James Milner, Robot Warrior, drafted into a starting midfield that many raised an eyebrow at, came over after that fumble to slap Kostas upside the head and shout: “Keep going!” That’s a leader. That’s why Jürgen wanted him on the pitch.

But I don’t think there can be any argument that the subs of Roberto Firmino and Fabinho did improve the play midway through the second half. Norwich was starting to mix it up in the middle third as they pushed for the equalizer and Bob and Fab helped put the game away just 4 minutes later.

What that play highlights is not just Bob’s influence on the game and creation of chance both by bringing the ball down the left side and feeding it into Sadio, who then clears space for both Mo and Bob as the defense collapses on him, but also Mo’s great awareness of both the game and Bob’s position by instinctively crossing it to the open man (as Lee Dixon notes in his commentary.) The game changed through the middle when the two of them came on. That’s tactical substitution, which is another highlight of Klopp’s presence. (That was also the 8000th league goal in Liverpool’s history, leaving them behind only ManU in that table.) But it’s not like we had problems with control in the first hour, either. At one point, Naby Keita had more tackles (6) than the rest of the squad, combined (5.) It was just a different kind of control that produced more offense where Norwich, having pushed up higher to get back in the game, were vulnerable. As is now normal again, we didn’t mirror them in that vulnerability:

Alisson mentioned how safe he feels with Virgil Van Dijk and Joel Matip in front of him. I’m sure every Liverpool fan had a similar reaction to today’s results. Next week, we’ll get the chance to test out those chances created and long-range passing, since we’ll be playing (sigh) Burnley which will, no doubt, be a thrill-a-minute. At the very least, it will be in front of a once-again, packed-to-the-gills Anfield. Early game at Magee’s. See you there.

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