Around 1911, British coal miners began using canaries to detect carbon monoxide and other gases toxic to humans. The idea is credited to John Scott Haldane, whose research on things like carbon monoxide led him to discover the respiration of small birds like canaries bringing oxygen in and out of their lungs when breathed, which made them sensitive to the presence of things accompanying that oxygen moreso than other animals like mice, and thus a suitable early warning system that would hopefully give the miners a chance to exit the shaft before disaster (for the humans, at least) struck. It’s an easy analogy, therefore, to think that Milot Rashica’s deflected goal was Norwich City’s oxygen that, actually, warned Liverpool that something was amiss. The Reds had utterly dominated the game and attacked the Norwich goal from all sides, but had been unable to capitalize. But when that warning came, appropriately, early in the second half, things began to change. The crowd at Anfield became louder and more urgent. The pace picked up. Suddenly, the game which had largely been in the Norwich half already pretty much stayed there. But there was still no result for Liverpool.
That’s when the depth comes in (and not actually of mining shafts; metaphors awry.) Just like against Inter in the middle of the week, Jürgen Klopp reached to his bench and swapped in Thiago Alcãntara and Divock Origi for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita. Ox was probably a necessary shift, as we need results now and, unfortunately for him, he usually takes a couple games to really get into rhythm and he hasn’t been called upon since January. Naby had played fine, but the plan was to shift to a 4-4-2, a formation that we don’t use that often, but would resist their attempts at countering more easily and allow us to provide even more pressure in the offensive third. Just like in Italy, the change worked a charm and within two minutes we’d equalized and three minutes later taken the lead. The clincher was added 15 minutes after that, following a further expression of outright dominance.
Opta says the above diagram of passes leading to Luis Diaz’s first goal for our club is not only the longest uninterrupted sequence (34) for any goal in the Premier League this season, but the longest for any Liverpool goal since Opta began charting this data in the 2006-07 season. The killer, of course, was Captain Jordan Henderson’s laser to Luis right to the edge of the box, which he was able to two-touch and dink over Angus Gunn to seal the win at a full sprint. How many people are concerned that Hendo is still our crew foreman again?
But due credit to the diggers, as well. Mo Salah was an absolute terror for the Canaries all afternoon, as he left them chasing him while he tried to deliver the ball to other red shirts or to the white lattice between the sticks. Along the way, he picked up his 150th goal of his Liverpool career in this 233rd appearance, becoming the second-fastest to do so, after the legendary Roger Hunt. And Sadio Mané, who stressed that he didn’t want the club to make any special announcement of his AFCON victory, for the sake of one his closest friends in Mo, also contributed by finally connecting on one of those bicycle kicks he’s been trying to make happen. That made it the 30th match that both Mo and Sadio have scored, making them the most regular duo in that respect in the PL era. It’s also yet another time when the entire starting front line have put the ball in the net; something that was quite familiar a couple seasons ago and is a great early warning sign that this squad- and this season -are shaping up to be something quite special. Just six points back now with a game in hand. Out of the darkness. Daylight ahead. Thanks, in part, to the Canaries.
I mean, yeah, look at that insane disparity. Due credit to Dean Smith and his squad as, despite bunkering in to resist as much as they were able, they did come charging forward whenever given the opportunity. But it was also almost literally men vs boys out there; not only in the results on the field, but because almost everyone who plays for Norwich, regardless of actual age, has a face like a 20-year-old academy prospect. But, once again, Norwich is playing with what is basically a Championship squad in the Premier League and the results are as expected. We typically outshoot our opponents. We don’t often outshoot them 29-6 (8-1 on target) with 70% possession. We also added to our offside trap total, getting the flag five times. Plan still working and still confusing commentators thinking Norwich were “dangerous.” (Unlike Inter, they at least had a shot on target.)
The switch to the 4-4-2 is something we haven’t done very often but it made absolute sense in this situation. Norwich had shown that they were willing to come forward, but only if we lost possession. What’s one of the best formations for retaining possession and containing an opponent? Typically the 4-4-2. It sacrifices some of the middle third dynamism that we’re accustomed to with our usual 4-3-3, but we also didn’t need to contest the middle third very often because Norwich wasn’t really interested. Then, once we took the lead, we just got into our usual routine of keeping the ball until they wore themselves out (see: 34 straight passes, above.) Key to that, of course, is the still-best forward in the world, despite the league scoring gap while at AFCON.
Unstoppable, yo. He has the most match-winning goals (5) and the most match-winning assists (4) of anyone in the PL this season. That was also Alisson Becker’s second PL assist, the first of which also went to Mo against ManU a couple years ago. And as much as we like to laud Mo, there’s room here to speak of that best of friends. Sadio was excellent in this match and scored his 108th goal for the club, which brings him level with John Barnes, one of our all-time greats and close to the top in my list of all-time favorites. Sadio needed only 248 matches to do that and it’s great that he has competition to push him forward now.
People, from r/soccer to every commentator covering every match we play, keep saying the mantra: “He looks like a Liverpool player already!” Well, technically, he is a Liverpool player already but, yes, I get the point. His mad pressing is a joy to watch and he disrupts opposing back lines just as well as anyone we have running for us right now. He wasn’t cheap, but getting him and Diogo Jota for less than what ManU paid for Harry Maguire is, um, funny. The man who set him up for that excellent chipped goal has also been worth the outlay of a decade ago.
He had a couple off games. He’s still one of the best midfielders that we have. 34/35 final third passes-! Again, a Championship-level opponent, but that’s still pretty impressive. I know there’s a segment of the fan base that cringes every time they see him at the 6, but he’s actually pretty good there. And also at the 8 covering Trent Alexander-Arnold. And also at leading the squad and pushing it forward (the determination in his eyes for this year’s match at Goodison comes to mind again.) And… We can go on and on here, but it’s also worth pointing out the guys who don’t play as often for a variety of reasons.
Joe has had some of the worst injury luck in the squad, which is saying a lot when you’re on the same team as Naby. This was his first PL start since November of 2020 and he did pretty well. Certainly, we lose some of Trent’s offensive explosiveness, but Joe has defensive instincts first and puts them to good use. He stayed all over Rashica and Kenny McLean when they tried to get forward and generally kept that side of the pitch secure. Similarly, Kostas Tsimikas did excellently, as usual, standing in for Andy Robertson. His ball movement was quick, his deliveries were on target, and he provided the excellent headed assist for Sadio’s goal, followed by a Tsimikiss.
Harry Kane slotted home exactly the type of winner at the Etihad that I’m betting Pep was dreaming of last June. That leaves us six points back with our game in hand happening this Wednesday against Leeds United. Put that one away and the hunt is truly on. Not bad for having been 11 points back at the start of January. As the captain said after the match: “If anything, a run of good form only adds to the need to be better because once you have shown what you are capable of, there is no excuse not to maintain or even improve on that standard. That’s the message for all of us from now until the end of the season.” Let’s do it.