by Joel Tracy
That was thrilling. And it was maddening. It was brilliant. And also shambolic. It was three points for the Reds. And it was a helluva lot of fun. Five Things that stood out to me:
Defensive Issues Fester.
Once again, Liverpool concede from their opponent’s first shot on target, as Liverpool, “defending” a corner, concede a series of headers in and around their box. Toure loses Mbokani, played onside by Sakho, who then inexplicably allows the striker the time and space to backheel past the keeper from Liverpool’s doorstep.
Once again, Mignolet is beaten by a shot he should save, Naismith’s low, driven effort that somehow eluded the Belgian’s right hand.
Once again, Liverpool fail to mark a runner inside the box, Can and Lucas offering less resistance than a turnstile to Naismith’s foray forward for the second. And once again, an individual error gifts Liverpool’s opponent an easy chance, Moreno’s foolish trip on Naismith (after a bold but clean sliding tackle) sends Hoolahan to the spot to make it 3-1.
Once again, Liverpool concede from a corner-and then again from another set piece, Sakho and Can allowing a long free kick to drop for Jerome to lay off for Bassong, who lashes in from outside the box. Important questions have been asked of Liverpool’s defensive personnel, mentality and tactics this campaign. And today, each and every reply was dire.
Midfield Fails to Assert Itself.
Liverpool’s midfield included their captain, Jordan Henderson, their most promising young player in Emre Can and Lucas Leiva who, for all his faults, has undergone somewhat of a revival since Jurgen Klopp’s appointment. There were real questions, ironically, of whether or not Liverpool could score today, but very few doubted Liverpool would be able to assert control against a Norwich side battling against relegation.
On a day when Liverpool’s defence was in dire need of protection, however, the unit offered anything but, failing to establish any sort of foothold in the match. Henderson was careless in possession, putting the defence under added pressure, although he did ignite the comeback with a welcome run into the box and a cool finish. Can was invisible for much of the match, and he was a spectator for Norwich’s second and fourth goals. Can’s and Lucas’ negligence on Naismith’s goal in particular was a disgrace, and it epitomized the approach of a unit that allowed themselves to be spectators, rather than combatants.
Firmino is Liverpool’s Attacking Lynchpin.
The Brazilian started slowly after his summer move from Hoffenheim, testing the patience of Reds’ supporters who’d expected more in the wake of the big-money transfer. But after flashing sporadic glimpses of his potential earlier in the campaign, the attacker appears to be hitting his stride at the forefront of Liverpool’s attack. He’s getting into great positions inside the box, as he did to score Liverpool’s first and third goals.
He’s creating chances for others, as he did with a selfless flick to Henderson for the third (as well as sending Milner through on goal in the first half). And he’s dropping deep to link play, as in the buildup to the third goal when he received the ball in midfield and immediately shifted it wide to Milner. Klopp would be wise to keep the Brazilian at the forefront of his attacking plans. Tactically speaking, that suggests more runs from midfield, while in terms of personnel, it points towards recruiting attackers with pace, movement and an eye for goal.
Big Day for Lallana and (to a slightly lesser extent,) Milner.
Of the above criteria, none of Liverpool’s current fit frontline options - Christian Benteke, Jordon Ibe, James Milner or Adam Lallana - ticks all the boxes. One match won’t change that, but the latter two both made massive contributions to Liverpool’s victory. The most prominent criticism of the pair has been the lack of goals and assists produced, and today both players contributed one of each, as Milner laid on a simple, yet effective throughball for Firmino’s opener and seized upon a woeful backpass to coolly slot past Rudd, while Lallana served up an inch-perfect cross to Firmino shortly after his introduction, before securing the three points with a fantastic, creative finish in added time.
The latter’s first league goal since May was a huge one, and he celebrated by ripping off his shirt, making a beeline for his manager and setting off a raucous team celebration. Neither player has the quality to be a long-term option as a first choice attacker, but if they can build on today’s performances to supplement their collective work rate and movement with increased production in the final third, Liverpool’s attacking impotence just might have a chance to overcome their attacking impotence.
Substitutions, Mentality help Liverpool Overcome yet Another Deficit.
Of the many changes in this Liverpool side under Jurgen Klopp, one of the most striking has been the Reds’ ability to recover after going behind, something that so often seemed impossible under Brendan Rodgers. Klopp’s substitutions have been a massive factor in that improvement, as highlighted by @BassTunedToRed, who revealed that the boss’ introductions have contributed six goals and four assists in the league - an impressive haul from fifteen matches - resulting in three wins and three draws.
While yours truly was clamouring for Joe Allen both before and throughout the match, Lallana’s introduction invigorated Liverpool’s attack, while Caulker and Benteke were again involved in the buildup to a crucial late goal. Crucially, heads didn’t drop after any of a host of setbacks in the match and the away side showed its resilience to fight back multiple times in the match, digging the ball out of the net at 3-1, 3-2 and at 3-3 in search of the next goal.
Each time, they found it. Make no mistake: it was unacceptable to give away the lead so cheaply, and Liverpool must develop a different sort of mentality to confidently see out victories. But for Klopp and his players, the knowledge that they can claw back after falling behind is no small thing.