Liverpool 2019/20: Five games that made their season: Norwich (H)
With English football currently on lockdown, we take a look back at Liverpool’s record-breaking Premier League campaign. First up in our five-part series, it’s their opening night win over Norwich City.
“This team is one of the best to ever play for Liverpool, 100 per cent. But we play in a league with other good teams. We will go again.”
Those were the words of Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp last May, reflecting on a season that had seen his side notch up an astonishing 97 points but still fall just short of a first Premier League title. Few could have argued with the German’s appraisal of his team, but would they really be able to continue the relentless form of their 2018/19 season? Comprehensive victory over newly-promoted Norwich City gave the first sign of what was to come.
Liverpool signal season intent with first-half blitz
Kicking off their season the day before Manchester City’s opener, it gave Liverpool the chance to get a head-start on the competition and the European champions were heavy favourites at Anfield.
Liverpool had not done any major business in the 2019 transfer window and so lined up with a team almost unchanged from the one who had lifted the Champions League three months previous. The only introductions were Joe Gomez, in for Joel Matip, and Divock Origi who started on the left-wing due to fitness concerns over Sadio Mané.
The absence of the Senegalese forward weakened the starting XI slightly but, following on from his late-season goal-scoring form, Origi looked eager to prove his worth. Just seven minutes into the game he found some space on the left flank and drove at Max Aarons before firing in a low cross that cannoned off the wandering boot of visiting captain Grant Hanley. Slightly fortunate, but a sign of what was to come.
Liverpool continued to push and first Trent Alexander-Arnold and then Mohamed Salah were dispossessed by the eight yellow shirts who crowded the box. However, the loose ball fell to Roberto Firmino in a little pocket of space, who artfully nudged the ball back into the path of the onrushing Salah. The goal in his sights, the Egyptian made no mistake and slotted the ball home.
Anfield grew louder, the home crowd enthused to see that the unchanged squad had retained last season’s cutting edge. The onslaught continued on the half-hour mark when a corner ball from Salah found the head of Virgil van Dijk who calmly nodded the ball past the planted goalkeeper. The big centre-half had barely moved in the act of goal-scoring and simply sauntered off toward the corner flag as if oblivious to the Norwich defenders. A smirking glance back to the corner-taker was the only clue that he’d even noticed that he’d scored.
The fourth was the easiest of the lot. Alexander-Arnold found himself in acres of space in the inside-right channel, about 40 yards out, and spotted Origi drifting inside the over-worked and under-supported Norwich defence. The full-back took a touch out of his feet before sending a devilishly flat delivery arcing over the stranded defenders’ heads and onto Origi’s. It glanced off the Belgian’s forehead and into the net.
Forty-two minutes into the season and Liverpool were 4-0 up. The contest was over by the halfway stage as it became clear that the opposition had no answer as the relentless red machine tore through them.
In many ways, that first-half performance would tell us everything we needed to know about the runaway Premier League leaders. There was no drop in pace or dip into performance following last season’s disappointment. If anything, it seemed, they were picking up momentum.
A second-half goal from Teemu Pukki restored some pride for the Canaries but the takeaway from the evening’s football was clear. This Liverpool side had not wavered in their pursuit of that elusive prize.
Neville on Liverpool: "The values remain"
Gary Neville summed it up best in the post-match discussion when he spoke of the character of Klopp’s team, something that has marked them as potential champions from the season’s first whistle:
“They stick to what they do, they don’t change a lot. They adapt slightly but more often than not the principles remain. The values remain.”