There were plenty of potential storylines before a ball had been kicked at Carrow Road. Virgil van Dijk, back in the Liverpool line-up for his first competitive game in ten months. Norwich themselves, back in the Premier League having watched the two sides who came up with them – Brentford and Watford – pick up three points upon their own returns.
And of course, 27,023 supporters back in the ground, Carrow Road bouncing and waving amid a plethora of sponsor-branded flags and chants from the stands inviting neighbourly rivals Ipswich Town to do something or other unsavoury.
As befits the fans returning at the same time as top-flight football, and as has been the case up and down the country this weekend, the atmosphere was electric: raucous and passionate, deafening at kick-off and smile-inducing in its sheer volume with Norwich’s first attack.
The Canaries were bright and energetic to start, snapping into challenges and playing direct down the channels to keep the visitors on the back foot.
Norwich’s right flank combo of Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell is much-admired, but here the latter was often wasteful despite plenty of industry. Instead on the opposite side of the pitch, left-back Dimitris Giannoulis was often the best outlet, while the impact of the on-loan Billy Gilmour was noticeable both in defensive and build-up play.
It was all the home fans could have asked for, other than the opening goal. Chances were somewhat at a premium for them, however.
Liverpool’s attack soon began to click, with a high press almost seeing Grant Hanley robbed and Diogo Jota in on goal. A flurry of efforts then saw Jota have a header tipped over by Tim Krul, Salah make space in the area and fire at the keeper and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, so bright in pre-season and with a deserved spot in the 11 here, drill over from range – all in the space of five minutes.
Even so, it was almost Norwich who made the breakthrough, a Cantwell clipped ball behind Van Dijk freeing Teemu Pukki, only for his near-post drive to be parried behind by Alisson Becker. That inspired a burst of Norwich pressure, which reinvigorated the supporters and served a reminder to the Reds that there was no chance of them strolling to victory.
The possibilities of the day were summed up by two outrageous efforts midway through the half; Salah fizzed a volley just wide at one end, before Cantwell tried a 30-yard lob from the right touchline.
And then, just like that, the home crowd were silenced, the deadlock broken: a cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold, a touch from Salah that got away from him but broke to Jota, and his poked finish through the legs of Krul, who seemed to anticipate the ball going the opposite direction.
The Portuguese forward has been the in-form man in front of goal in recent months for the Reds and continued to look extremely sharp here, not just with the goal but his link play and willingness to run in behind. Jota continues to put his name forward as a go-to starter.
A second-half dribble saw him take three defenders on and charge into a dangerous area, before Cantwell’s crude lunge ended the surge and saw him booked. Liverpool’s goalscorer would have been disappointed to be subbed on the hour mark, but the double change came at a time when Jurgen Klopp had seen his side come off second-best in a succession of challenges and look susceptible on the counter. Roberto Firmino and compatriot Fabinho were needed.
So if his place is most in danger due to Jota’s form and fortunes in front of goal, what would the No9 produce?
Suffice to say, Klopp’s changes worked. A full four minutes later, the original front three, the Champions League-winning troika, combined in devastating and marginally fortunate fashion, Firmino sweeping home after a more deliberate Salah assist this time.
Norwich’s resistance and lingering hopes were ended, while the Reds found the extra, end-of-match gear that so many of the top teams so frequently display. It is, ultimately, what sets apart the title challengers from the rest.
Salah curled in a brilliant third, then almost dribbled through the entire defence to score again before Harvey Elliott came on for a late cameo.
So Norwich lose, an 11th straight Premier League defeat in a row dating back to the pre-pandemic days, but aside from the final 15 minutes or so it’s unlikely they’ll stress over it too much – there’s reason for optimism, something to build on.
Liverpool’s season starts with the attack in focus once more, after last year’s never-ending defensive sob story.
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