This was our fourth encounter with Norwich City this season, after two wins in the Premier League and a win in the WITSBP cup. All three previous games played out pretty much like this one: we dominated the ball, Norwich got out on the counter a couple times, and there was no doubt as to which side was going to win this match at any point before, during, or after it. Dean Smith even said, post-match: “I thought the team that went through should have gone through, but we asked some questions of them.” Great. More questions. The problem for the Canaries is that they have no answers. The deeper problem is that they can’t get a different result even when they radically change their starting XI or when we do so. Or both, as was the case today. We made 10- TEN -changes from the cup final on Sunday. Only Captain Jordan Henderson was on the pitch when the opening kick of both games was made. Norwich made seven from their league game on the weekend. And, yet, the game played out exactly as it does every time we play Norwich. I’ve written a lot recently about how our depth now allows us to make wholesale changes in a manner that we haven’t been able to accomplish in the past. I was perfectly content with a front line of Diogo Jota, Divock Origi, and Takumi Minamino. That’s not to say I would’ve been content with that front line against, say, Manchester United but that’s because ManU is an actual Premier League squad, whereas Norwich is a Championship squad playing in the PL. It’s a measure of the ever-widening chasm between the first division and the second division.
Don’t get me wrong. Norwich will go down again this season and will probably romp right through the Championship again because they have a great approach to how they run the club and build their team. They’re still better than most of their competitors at that level. But they’re also the furthest thing from competitive at this level. So, perhaps it’s kind of appropriate that we met them in both cups this year…? I don’t know. All I know is that, for once, I wasn’t gnashing my teeth about the fact that we ended up with a PL opponent and Man City, once again, ended up with lower division competition because I knew that a) Norwich is effectively “lower division competition”, b) we now have the depth to be able to rotate and still beat almost anyone in the PL (or Championship) and c) we probably could’ve done even more rotation (i.e. played many of the kids, like Tyler Morton) from the outset and still won. This is what Jürgen Klopp has been trying to do with the earlier rounds of the cup games since he’s been here. He knows that winning the league and the Champions League are the ultimate goals; not only competitively, but financially, as well. But he also did want to win these cups. Now he has the depth to do it and, suddenly, here we are: League Cup champions and in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup for the first time since 2015.
An additional upside is that everyone played pretty well and demonstrated why they might be able to play more in the league, so that we can possibly do some rotation before more strenuous CL games or when preparing for the rematch against either Manc club or the resurgent Gooners or the tailspinning Spurs or anyone else that might be a significant threat to our attempt at the quadruple. Like, say, this Saturday’s opponent, West Ham. I know it’s mildly odd to consider West Ham a threat because Moyes, but they’re still contending for the top 4 and they beat us in London. They’re an actual PL squad, unlike today’s opponent. That means I won’t almost fall asleep in front of the game because it borders on being tedious. Playing Norwich is the anti-madness. I know that, come April if we’re still in the hunt for all of these things, I might be kind of interested in something a bit more mundane. But until that point, I think I’ll be content with just how well our squad is functioning, simply because it seems to be doing the same (great) thing(s), over and over.
Liverpool 2 – 1 Norwich City
As a measure of just how little anyone cares about another Liverpool v Norwich City match, it’s next to impossible to find a decent assessment of xG on this game. I’ve seen some ridiculously simplistic numbers (3.0 to 2.0) but most people don’t care about the FA Cup until it at least reaches the quarterfinals, so pretty pictures will have to wait. Instead, I decided to lead off with the performance of “would be starting at CB for any other team in the league” Joe Gomez.
As the above diagram indicates, you can also add 8 passes into the offensive half and 3 interceptions to those numbers. As before, he’s never been great in the air, but that doesn’t matter if you have the positioning sense and recovery speed that Joe does. He’s still working his way back to that top end speed, but it’s still sufficient for him to get across the pitch and make tackles like this one:
Yeah, man. That was the most exciting moment of the match for me, including Taki’s two goals. There was the potential for a real break by an almost-real, live opponent and Joe just sprinted across the pitch and snuffed it out without touching his man. It’s a shame for him that he still can’t get regular time in this squad, but we also know that Joel Matip has always been an injury hazard for us in the past, so rotation will be happening. Joe is right there for that eventuality. Of course, so is Ibrahim Konaté, who also performed great tonight, so guarantees they are not to be existing. As long as he’s still comfortable with that while he still hasn’t quite reached full recovery, we can just revel in the fact that four of the best CBs in the league are all sitting (sometimes literally) at Anfield. But, oh, yeah. The MotM.
That’s 9 goals this season across all competitions; half again as many as his total for all of last season (6), including the time he spent with Southampton. In a testament to the team-mindedness and unselfishness of this squad, you can lay the credit for that first one at Divock’s feet (literally), given his brilliant layoff that opened the door. But the second one is all Taki:
Another set piece goal, as well. Those were, incidentally, the 750th and 751st goals scored since Jürgen Klopp has been managing Liverpool. But that’s also 9 goals in just over 1000 minutes of play for Taki. In other words, almost a goal per game and yet he still struggles to get playing time (just like Joe.) More performances like this may make him too potent to ignore. And that’s the expectation for Harvey Elliott, as well.
Harvey came on to replace Curtis Jones, who left at halftime because of an injury scare (Jürgen says it was a thigh problem, which usually means hamstring, but seemed to think it wasn’t that serious.) And the thing was, Curtis was playing really well. So, one star academy product replaced, easy as you like, with another star academy product. I know I’ve been gushing about our depth in the past few weeks but it’s all kind of blossoming at the same moment, which is, again, why we’re going farther in the cup competitions than we have since Jürgen has been here, why we’re undefeated in the CL, why we turned a lost cause into an actual title race in the PL, and why we’re undefeated in our last 14 matches. It’s all happening right in front of us.
So, that was probably many more words than that match actually deserved (11 corners to 1.) Whatevs. Saturday at 12:30, the Hammers are at Anfield. Tuesday, Inter is also at Anfield. Then we’re at Brighton and Hove for the early game. 7 AM beers at Magee’s. Can’t beat it.