“I hope the football’s going to cheer us all up. There’s nothing worse than being cold and miserable.” With his lugubrious tones, Anfield’s stadium announcer must be as far removed as is humanly possible from Liverpool owner John W Henry’s idea of a cheerleader but his words proved entirely prescient on a hugely encouraging day for Brendan Rodgers’s team.
On an afternoon of light snow flurries inside Anfield, Bill Shankly would have approved of the absence of gloves and snoods – the great Liverpool manager used to insist on his players training in shirts and shorts even in the depths of winter. But he would have taken even greater satisfaction from this fluid attacking performance by the home side, orchestrated by the outstanding Luis Suarez who helped the Merseysiders earn the biggest victory of Rodgers’s reign.
As a result Liverpool climbed level on points with sixth-placed Arsenal and within three points of neighbours Everton, who both have games in hand.
The Uruguayan may have earned a public rebuke from his manager in midweek for his “unacceptable” admission of diving against Stoke City but here, as he wriggled past yellow shirts and teed up team-mates, he showed the very best of his game, as well as offering early signs of a productive partnership with home debutant Daniel Sturridge, who ended the match with his third goal in as many Liverpool appearances following his move from Chelsea.
Rodgers expressed his evident delight afterwards when he said: “Luis has done what he has done all season. He is 100 per cent every game and he combined really well with Daniel up front. I thought we had a real fluidity in our movement today at the top end of the field.”
Suarez was involved in all Liverpool’s good work, right from the third minute when his cross gave Stewart Downing an early headed opportunity.
And it was his persistence that helped set up Jordan Henderson’s excellent opening strike after 26 minutes, Suarez holding off a challenge from Jonathan Howson on the edge of the box; although Elliott Bennett did come in with a tackle, he merely teed up Henderson for a sweetly struck half-volley that flew high past Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn.
“It was a terrific piece of play by Luis Suarez,” said Rodgers. “He wriggled his way in and around the edge of the box and what a strike from Jordan.”
Twice in the first period Suarez, operating deeper than Sturridge, set up his new colleague for shots, and both were involved in the second goal after 36 minutes. It came after Lucas had played a forward pass from inside his own half that Sturridge allowed to run through his legs. The dummy took Michael Turner, the Norwich centre-back, out of the game, leaving Suarez free to bear down on Bunn’s goal and find the far corner for his 20th goal of the season.
Norwich manager Chris Hughton bemoaned his side’s “awful” defending but Rodgers, not surprisingly, took a different view as he reflected on the interplay between his new forward pair.
“I think it gives the opponent someone else to really worry about,” he said. “We all felt Suarez has been incredible for us this season and he had some young players up there with him but you’ve now got a recognised goalscorer up beside him and if you look at the movement of the two, the second goal was a wonderful demonstration of how good players can link together – great vision by Daniel to see the run from Luis.”
Suarez had scored hat-tricks in his previous two appearances against Norwich and this was another miserable afternoon for the East Anglian club, who have taken just one point from their last six matches. Their best moment came after six minutes when centre-back Ryan Bennett nodded a Robert Snodgrass free-kick straight at Brad Jones, deputising for the injured Pepe Reina. “Our best chance was Rob’s header and I thought he should have scored,” said Hughton. “Liverpool were clinical in their finishing, but we weren’t good enough today. We have to be better than that.”
Norwich’s defence was missing the injured Sébastien Bassong and Liverpool continued to find holes in the second period. Sturridge got the third goal before the hour to become the first Liverpool player since Ray Kennedy to score on his first three appearances for the club.
Henderson played a ball out to Downing on the right and his first-time volleyed centre was turned in by Sturridge at the far post, although TV replays later suggested that the £12m man was a fraction offside.
Steven Gerrard’s trademark daisy-cutter made it four before substitute Raheem Sterling completed Liverpool’s third straight handsome home victory, outpacing Turner and putting in the low ball that Ryan Bennett turned into his own net.
Liverpool have now recorded as many home League wins – six – as they managed in the whole of last season, and Anfield, despite the snow, feels a warmer place.
Liverpool: (4-2-3-1): Jones; Wisdom, Carragher, Agger, Johnson; Gerrard, Lucas (Sterling, 68); Downing, Suarez, Henderson (Allen, 77); Sturridge (Borini, 69).
Norwich City: (4-4-1-1): Bunn; Martin, Turner, R Bennett, Garrido; Snodgrass (Pilkington, 86), Tettey, Johnson, E Bennett (Hoolahan, 65); Howson; Holt.
Referee: Michael Oliver
Man of the match: Suarez (Liverpool)
Match rating: 7/10