Norwich 2 Liverpool 3 match report: Liverpool go five points clear of Chelsea at top of Premier League table on day Luis Suarez hits goal number 30
Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Sunday 20 April 2014
Pressure is one thing but expectation quite another and Liverpool, in their first real game as champions-presumed, produced a performance to fit here.
It has been a remarkable week since Philippe Coutinho beat Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart with 12 minutes left at Anfield, giving Liverpool the momentum but also the responsibility that comes with being favourites. Since then that duty has only been magnified, with first Manchester City and then Chelsea somehow dropping points at their own grounds to struggling Sunderland.
When Liverpool walked out here at Carrow Road, then, it was the first time when a mistake would have been more than a disappointment. The title is now expected of Liverpool, and that changes the feel.
Brendan Rodgers’ team, though, played with the confidence and focus of a side closing out a championship. Although they won by the same margin as the one by which they beat Manchester City a week earlier, there was never too much doubt that they would win this game, even when they came under some pressure in the last few minutes. Norwich were excellent in the second half, fighting back when they could have folded, but ultimately this was a less even game than the final score might suggest.
The key to Liverpool’s win was a start almost as good as their early blitz at Anfield last week. They played with a quality and imagination in the first 20 minutes beyond anything Neil Adams’ Norwich could comprehend. They scored twice, through Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez, and it could have been more.
What was again clear was that if Liverpool do win the league, it will be a triumph, more than anything else, for Rodgers’ coaching methods. He said after the game that his first priority as coach is to improve his players, and that if he does that, results should follow. He has certainly done that, not only making his players better but teaching them to play in a range of different systems which he can switch between without ever compromising the style of play.
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With Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge out, Rodgers might have been tempted to abandon the 4-4-2 diamond system so crucial to the famous wins at Southampton and Manchester United. Instead, he tweaked it. Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva came in to shuttle in between Steven Gerrard and Sterling, while Coutinho played off Suarez as an inside-left, helping Liverpool, in Rodgers’ words, to “dominate centrally”.
Perhaps Norwich had not seen much of Liverpool recently but they did not look prepared for Sterling’s role through the middle, and in the fourth minute he put Liverpool ahead. Picking up the ball in the gaping middle of Norwich’s half, he shuffled inside past Bradley Johnson before thundering the ball into the near top corner of the net with his right foot from 25 yards out.
Liverpool’s movement was just too sharp – Allen should have done better than shoot at John Ruddy after running on to Coutinho’s pass – but on 11 minutes Sterling made the second for Suarez. He ran in behind Steven Whittaker, received a pass from Jon Flanagan and played a perfect low cross, just behind Michael Turner, for Suarez to convert.
It has been a remarkable season for Sterling, who was not even a regular in the side until December. He has improved so much under Rodgers that he is equally comfortable out wide – he had spells on both wings here – or in the hole. Rodgers said that Sterling should not only pick up the Young Player of the Year award but that he is the best young player in European football, and on the evidence of the last few months it is difficult to disagree.
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2 Liverpool 3 - match report
is the 'best young player in Europe' - Rodgers
Once they were 2-0 up, Liverpool sat back, although they could have scored a third just before the break, Sterling breaking through the middle before Coutinho curled a shot just over and beyond the far post.
In the second half, Rodgers changed formation to 4-3-3, with Sterling on the right wing, where he was still Liverpool’s most dangerous player. He fired just over the bar four minutes after the restart and, after the visitors’ goalkeeper Simon Mignolet had allowed Norwich to pull one back, scored the crucial third.
Intercepting a poor pass from Johnson, Sterling ran with the ball from halfway. As he approached the box, Suarez ran across, dragging Turner with him, and Sterling’s shot bounced off the chasing Johnson, over Ruddy and in.
Adams said it was a “fluke of a goal”, which had prevented his side from getting a deserved point from the game. They were certainly far better in the second half, causing Liverpool problems with their own direct, purposeful game plan. Sensing the visitors’ vulnerability against crosses, Norwich peppered their box, scoring twice and even making one usable chance for 3-3.
Their first goal came nine minutes after the restart. Whittaker lofted a high ball, Mignolet punched weakly under pressure from Bradley Johnson, and Gary Hooper tapped into the empty net.
That made it 2-1 but even at 3-1 Norwich continued to push. Mignolet had to turn a shot from Robert Snodgrass round the post, Martin Skrtel blocked from Nathan Redmond, and Russell Martin headed one on to the bar.
Another header, with 13 minutes left, made it 3-2. This time it was Snodgrass, attacking Martin Olsson’s cross at the far post, finding the top corner. Ricky van Wolfswinkel, from a similar position, had a chance to level the score at 3-3 in the final minutes but, meeting Redmond’s cross, he could only head tamely at Mignolet.
Norwich had given the second half their absolute maximum and when the referee Andre Marriner blew his whistle they were roared off by the fans, who had witnessed more courage and desire in the second half than they had seen in almost the whole season up to this point.
But the players, who go to Old Trafford next and then to Stamford Bridge, collapsed to the floor, while the Liverpool players embraced each other in relief. Those in yellow sensed how this season is going to end – and so did those in red.
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