Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Academy products star in FA Cup to show Liverpool are ready for life after Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool 5-2 Norwich City: Curtis Jones scored and Conor Bradley assisted twice as the Reds won in the fourth round

Richard Jolly
Anfield
Sunday 28 January 2024 18:05 GMT
Comments
Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk celebrates scoring their side's fourth goal of the game during the Emirates FA Cup fourth-round match at Anfield
Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk celebrates scoring their side's fourth goal of the game during the Emirates FA Cup fourth-round match at Anfield (PA)

While Jurgen Klopp’s long goodbye has begun, the possibility is growing that the final farewell will come at Wembley. In dispatching Norwich City, in setting up a fifth-round meeting with Watford or Southampton at Anfield, Liverpool opened a path to a second domestic Cup double in three seasons. The FA Cup will not define Klopp’s reign, but it may bring it to a glorious end on 25 May.

Predictably, there were points when “I’m so glad Jurgen is a Red” echoed around Anfield. Klopp has asked fans not to sing the song devoted to him during games; in the next four months, he may have to get used to them ignoring his wishes. And yet this was more than a mere sentimental occasion: the decibel level probably peaked as he was serenaded after the final whistle but until then, the loudest cheer may have been reserved for the sight of the returning Andy Robertson, who made his first appearance since October. It added to the sense Liverpool are gaining in strength as well as momentum. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominik Szoboszlai made their comebacks after shorter lay-offs. Klopp hopes it will be business as usual, despite his bombshell, and Liverpool showed few signs of being distracted.

One of the German’s feats has been to turn Anfield into a fortress. They extended this season’s record to 15 wins and two draws in 17 matches on home soil, bringing up a half-century of goals. Norwich struck twice, one of them spectacular, but there was little prospect of an upset. David Wagner was Klopp’s best man but his side were unsurprisingly second best.

Five goals continued Liverpool’s quest for four trophies. There could have been more and an entertainingly chaotic affair felt fitting: there have been many of those in the Klopp years. His side were relentless, played at pace and amassed 30 shots.

Many of the crucial contributions came from some who, between them, summed up much of what has been best about his time. There was a goal from one of his biggest buys, Virgil van Dijk, and one from a catalytic signing, who reached a new level under Klopp, Diogo Jota. There were starring roles, too, for Curtis Jones and Conor Bradley; if the Northern Irishman is not the definitive right-back of the Klopp years, one has been integral to his tactics and the newcomer offered ample evidence he could be a valuable deputy to Alexander-Arnold.

Klopp has planned for Liverpool’s future, even though he will not be part of it. Liverpool’s first two goals were both set up by academy products, with their opener scored by another. He gave a first start to James McConnell in a midfield missing Alexis Mac Allister and the teenager responded by setting up the first goal. His deep cross was headed in by Jones, another academy boy, growing proof Klopp’s project players can prosper.

Bradley has been the recent revelation and was the game’s outstanding player. He ended with two assists and, but for a Darwin Nunez-esque miss from Cody Gakpo, when Bradley presented him with a tap-in, it would have been a hat-trick.

Conor Bradley claimed two assists for Liverpool (PA)

As it was, Nunez himself showed more precision when the right-back won the ball, surged forward and picked out Darwin Nunez, who took one touch before finding the corner of the net. The Uruguayan had already bent a 20-yard shot against the far post.

Bradley’s second assist came in added time when Ryan Gravenberch headed in his half-volleyed cross. It was a reward for the Dutchman’s persistence. He had twice been denied by dramatic interventions on the goal line; the first by defender Grant Hanley, the second from goalkeeper George Long, with a stunning save. Before then, Jota rifled in a half-volley after Ben Gibson only succeeded in turning Jones’ long ball into his path. Then Van Dijk headed in Szoboszlai’s corner, eight minutes after each came on with Robertson.

Van Dijk celebrates scoring the fourth (PA)

Klopp had taken mercy on his friend Wagner by initially omitting each, along with Luis Diaz and Alexander-Arnold but all five came on. Wagner did not try and gegenpress against the gegenpresser in chief but if Norwich were passive out of possession, they struck twice.

They levelled when Gibson headed in Gabriel Sara’s corner for his first goal since 2018. The goal of the game came from the Championship club, Borja Sainz unleashing an unstoppable shot from 25 yards. Liverpool were more open than Klopp might like but, when they had such attacking zeal, it scarcely mattered.

The game’s strangest attempt at goal, however, did not come from his players. Ashley Barnes tried to score from his own half; it scarcely needs saying that he failed. Plenty of astonishing things have happened at Anfield over the course of Klopp’s reign. A 60-yard, Xabi Alonso-esque goal from Barnes might have been the weirdest.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in