I haven’t written on this blog for four years. Maybe I won’t after this, perhaps I’ll set up a newsletter. I don’t know. If nobody reads this, this can be an aide memoire for me in May when looking back over a long season and trying to recall how it all panned out. I did three word reviews of each half on Twitter, and maybe repeating that each week will suffice for 2020/21.
Half-time analysis: I like Tsimikas
Full-time analysis: #fiveseasonwonder
On the face of it, this was a routine win for Liverpool. The below Attack Momentum chart from SofaScore illustrates as much, though the home side did have a decent opportunity – inevitably through Teemu Pukki – five minutes before the Reds took the lead. Had that gone on in, different game, etc etc.
It would be easy to say “it’s only Norwich”, especially as the Canaries have lost Emi Buendia to Aston Villa. The Argentine was their only player to assist more than six goals last season (or over three in their previous Premier League campaign), and while new signing Milot Rashica should contribute in due course, it may take time.
But “it’s only Norwich” somehow implies that this was “regular Liverpool” and that was certainly not the case.
Sure, the names mostly look familiar, but consider the details, starting with the back four. Virgil van Dijk had missed Liverpool’s previous 45 competitive matches, Joël Matip the last 22, and Kostas Tsimikas got the sum total of 227 minutes in all competitions for his new team last season.
Then there’s the central trio, whom to the best of my knowledge have never played together in midfield for the Reds before. There have been matches in which they all have been on the pitch at the same time, but often in short bursts, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the front three in some examples and James Milner at right-back in another. In terms of those players forming a midfield unit, I’m 99% certain it was their competitive debut.
And finally, a line on the attack. Most Kopites would view the options for the three berths as a straight choice between Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota to accompany Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Jürgen Klopp opted for the Portuguese forward, but it was only the seventh time he’d started alongside the Reds’ numbers 10 and 11.
When put in this context, it was clearly not as strong a team as the names on the page would automatically suggest. This is not to paint them as plucky underdogs, simply to highlight the valid question marks over sections of this specific side at this moment in time.
But perhaps their victory was inevitable regardless. The Jota-Mane-Salah axis of opposition laceration may have only started six games together last season, but the Reds won five of them and aside from their 3-1 defeat in Madrid scored 11 goals without reply.
And to emphasise the four forwards’ importance to this particular result, Salah assisted Jota and Firmino for goals one and two, before scoring the third when seemingly the whole Norwich team were understandably preoccupied with Matip and van Dijk at a Liverpool corner. The Egyptian secured his eighth goal contribution hat trick (no, it’s not really a thing) and the Reds were home and hosed.
However, there was still time for Norwich to fashion their one clear-cut chance of the encounter, and the sequence descended into a good old fashioned goalmouth scramble. The one member of the Liverpool side I haven’t yet mentioned took it all in his stride without breaking sweat though.
Most people would tell you that Alisson Becker’s main contribution to the 10 game unbeaten run which closed out Liverpool’s 2020/21 season was his winning goal at The Hawthorns. Much more important were his 13 saves from 14 clear-cut chances faced, and by making another here it meant the Reds had secured a third successive shut out across their previous three league games. It’s a very good habit to have.
Next league game: Liverpool host Burnley next weekend in the 12:30 Saturday kick-off. The Clarets ended the Reds’ three year unbeaten run at home last season, and have only been defeated in one of their last four visits to Anfield.
But there haven’t been fans present for their last two trips to the red half of Merseyside either. This match will be different.