Well, five goals, the youngsters impressing and a successful start to a key part of the season. Can’t really ask for any more than that, given the emotional few days we’ve had. We’re in the hat for the 5th round and that was the order for today. Dan Thomas here with your Norwich report.
It’s getting back on the horse having fallen from the saddle. It’s getting back on the bike after falling on your arse. It’s the first game since Klopp’s bombshell announcement and it’s out of the way.
Even walking around the ground before the game the mood was quite sombre. There is usually excited chatter of people talking about the upcoming match, the tactics, transfers and some dipshit buying a half and half scarf. But it didn’t feel like that today, there was just nothing. A void. Emptiness. Like the inside of Wayne Rooney’s skull. Other fans (who have no idea what they’re talking about) have poked fun at us this week, but it really does feel like a grieving process, like the passing of something that you have no control over.
But when the players and Jurgen walked down the tunnel, we got the applause out of the way. We were ready for business, and it was business as usual. 5-2 was a let off for Norwich if we’re being completely honest.
I’d done a lot of thinking about the team and when I read it when it was released, it was a great advert for why talented youngsters should sign for Liverpool. I am always happy to see young lads in the team and it was great to see James McConnell get his first start. I will get to him later but when I was reading the team, I was happy with what I’d seen. Though the LFC Twitter account needs to list people by position and not number. Come on dude, it’s 2024. Let’s be better. I was expecting Robbo to come in from the start or maybe even Owen Beck with Robbo to come on later, and Gomez to drop in at centre half. But no, Konaté played again which I really didn’t expect.
It is testament to the Academy and to the pathway to the first team that both Quansah and Bradley are just there now. I fully expected them both to play today and Bradley will be unlucky to not play when Trent comes back in against Chelsea. They are not wet behind the ears kids, these are now established first team lads. They aren’t starters yet of course but they are very definitely a part of the first team squad now – and that is a measure of how calm, composed and grown up their football is.
I was a little surprised to see Alisson start but when you think about it, Kelleher has the Carling/Coca Cola/Rumbelows/Carabao Cup and the Europa League. I guess Klopp has told Alisson he has the league and the FA Cup, because it’s not like Kelleher would have been overawed by the occasion today.
Some of the football Norwich played was extraordinary. I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way either. We are a lean, mean gegenpressing machine. We hunt as a vicious pack and drag our prey down. So when our prey is not even close to being as good as we are, you’d think they’d try and spend some time with the ball in the air on the halfway line.
Not Norwich though – they decided to try and pass out like prime Barcelona. I respect that they have an identity, a style and a way of playing. I almost respect that they are saying “That’s the way we play and that’s all there is to it.” Come on though man, it was obvious inside the first five minutes that they were going to try and go toe to toe with our pressing game and it was obvious we were going to create chances because of it.
We had nearly taken the lead early on but Nunez’s curling shot hit the post. He was a menace again today, and was unlucky to not get more than the one he did. He cut onto his right and his shot looked pretty speculative to be honest but it thumped off the woodwork. Again. Feels like poor old Darwin has hit the post hundreds of times this season and here’s another one for the list. Cue the “ShIt AnDY CaRRolL" chants.
I was made up to hear those bumpkins start up with that shit because it seems to me that Darwin is increasingly scoring every time it happens. Proper Football League dickhead bantz, and that was Norwich’s schtick all afternoon. Being loud means nothing when you are wearing green and yellow wigs, doing the whole CALM DOWN, CALM DOWN thing 25 years after it was last seen on TV and spending half the game singing about the atmosphere. Which admittedly was mostly very flat.
But we aren’t exactly going to be up for it on a Sunday at 2:30pm against a heavily rotated Norwich City, are we? And whilst I’m at it, I hope we’re going to change the away end back to where it was because that has really knocked my karma out of kilter. The away end has been the Main Stand side ever since I can remember.
In fact, whilst I’m at it, I resented drawing Norwich in the first place. They have been up and down (nearly as much as I was sitting down and standing up today, what is it with cup games with jabronis constantly going up and down the aisle? I had seasickness two minutes into the second half!) for much of the last twenty years. I never miss them when they’re gone, I don’t acknowledge them when they are here. They’re just there and the same goes for Watford as well, who we’ve drawn in the next round, providing they can get past Southampton in a replay. Not glamour ties but I’ll take the home draw any day of the week. But I digress.
When the opener came, it was completely expected and it had been coming. We’d nicked the ball in great positions a few times but didn’t quite make the most of it. But McConnell dropped into space, looked up and pinged a left footed diagonal to the back post. The right back lost Curtis and he swooped in for an easy header. The improvement in him this season has been profound and he is regularly chipping in with goals these days. That one will possibly not live long in his memory but it certainly will for McConnell.
He was absolutely fearless today and did not look out of place. He was confident on the ball and put himself about in the tackle. It was nice to see some of our lads go straight to him instead of Jones because it was an exquisite ball that just begged for Jones to do exactly what he did – straight back across the keeper into the corner. Excellent.
Norwich continued with their high risk, zero reward approach and I honestly thought we were going to hit them for seven or eight. However, as it turns out, they got a couple of corners and scored a totally undeserved equaliser. I am a little bit annoyed at that goal to be honest because as a Championship team coming to Anfield in a game where they’d have about 30% possession, Norwich will have been working on their set pieces all week – and we should have been doing the same in the training sessions we’ve had.
To add to this, Gibson had a free run at goal in the corner a few seconds previous but Jota nicked it away. No such luck second time. It looked a good header, just a glance and not even Alisson can do anything about it. However, it was actually spawn central as it’s flicked off his back and Alisson can still do nothing about it.
We looked a bit ropey for five minutes actually, not under any pressure but certainly not showing our considerable attacking teeth. However, Norwich duly obliged us by playing out again. The keeper tried to find the left back with a diagonal which Conor Bradley won back. He then played a lovely 1-2 with Jota the Slotter and suddenly the right back had acres of space to run into. He kept his composure magnificently and played in Nunez.
To be honest, his first touch wasn’t great and he hit the ball quite a bit further ahead of where he would have wanted. But the finish, right footed, was straight in the bottom corner and the keeper isn’t getting that. Very good all round. And that was a perfect demonstration of the importance of making the right choice – when you do so, everything opens up.
Until half time, all hell broke loose. We should have been out of sight and then some. Norwich kept trying to Beckenbauer it up, we kept swooping in and taking the ball. Bradley cut it back for Gakpo and the latter inexplicably skimmed it well wide with the goal at his mercy. A really extraordinary miss for someone who is usually so composed. And then, Norwich tried to play out yet again and Jones nicked it, played in Gravenberch who rounded the keeper but his shot was weak and was cleared off the line.
A truly nuts couple of minutes. Again, I respect you have an identity. You do that against Huddersfield or Southampton or Leeds. You don’t do that at Anfield against a team that actively wants you to try and play your way out. How it was only 2-1 at half time was anyone’s guess.
When all the dickheads got back from their half time pie/pint/piss and making me bob up and down like a fat Woolyback meerkat, they would have seen that we carried on the second half as we ended the first. Total domination. However, the third goal was a bit out of nothing – Jones hit a long one looking for Jota, Gibson had to get there but could only head it into the air. Without breaking stride, Jota has kept on going, got the ball into the perfect position and rattled it into the bottom corner with his left foot.
He didn’t have time to think, he just did. An absolutely fantastic finish from one of the elite finishers in world football. He’s been back a while now but it’s no coincidence that we’re playing better, looking more dangerous and scoring more goals since his return to the side.
Almost instantly, the changes were rung. On came Dom, Virgil and Robbo and off went Jones, Konate and Gomez. It’s genuinely fantastic to have Robertson back but it is a huge testament to how well Gomez has played when you consider we have not missed either Robbo or Tsimikas. Incidentally, can we knock the SHOOOOOT every time Gomez has the ball on the fucking head, please? He will build it and they will come, don’t worry. Leaving that aside though, what a bench eh? Not a bad set of subs to make at all.
It didn’t take long for the substitutes to combine actually as Szoboslai’s corner picked out an unmarked van Dijk, who planted his header from the penalty spot. How you leave the best header of a ball on the pitch as open as that, I have no idea but it was a great header unmarked or not. Scoring from that range is a skill. There’s not many sights in football watching a keeper at full stretch being beaten by a header from a corner. One of the lads who sits in front of me called a goal from a van Dijk header before that ball came in, so fair play Mick!
On came Trent, off went Darwin as the vice skipper got himself half an hour under the belt before Chelsea in midweek. He nearly scored with his first touch actually as a corner was cleared to the edge of the box, but it was blocked. Interesting that he stayed in midfield mostly and Bradley was left on to maraud down the right.
Again I thought Hurricane Liverpool might completely swamp Norwich but it wasn’t quite the case. They had a goal disallowed for offside – there was a VAR check which was a shame as I largely had forgotten it had existed this weekend. It’s no coincidence to me that there has been no talk of high profile refereeing clangers in a weekend where VAR use is limited. I could see in real time it was offside but the check did last a while.
A few minutes later, it was 4-2. A long ball wasn’t hoovered up in midfield and Sainz just ran and ran with it. Van Dijk declined to close him down and suddenly, it’s in. There is so much to pick apart about that goal. It’s a good hit don’t get me wrong I am not detracting from the lad. Glen Johnson did the draw for the 5th round and van Dijk demonstrated some Glen Johnson-esque closing down as he…. Well, didn’t. He just let him shoot.
And as critical as I have been of Kelleher this season, if that goal goes in with him in net we are asking questions about the goalkeeping. “Alisson would have saved that.” For me, if something goes in from that range you’re entitled to ask questions of the goalkeeper and having watched it back a few times, I am not sure what the problem is. Has he maybe seen it late around van Dijk? If you ask him, he’s probably not happy with himself. Or maybe I am expecting too much because he is the best in the world without question and I hate giving the away fans something to celebrate.
I thought that goal demonstrated McConnell was low on batteries because the space in midfield was huge and given he was the holding midfielder he was well behind the play. He lasted another ten minutes before giving way to Diaz. Again, not a bad change to make! Well played young man – see you against Watford on the 28th February. Because that’s how good his performance was.
The last ten minutes was no onslaught by them by any means and we could have scored another three ourselves. Long made a great save following a goalmouth scramble, and Jota was having target practice using someone about 10 rows back in the Kop as he absolutely leathered two shots out wide into the exact same area in quick succession. Not one you want to catch in the face.
He’s the lad from Portugal
He’ll knock your teeth out don’t you know
Oh his name is Diogo
Jota looked a bit knackered to be honest but McConnell couldn’t continue so 90 minutes for Jota. Obviously the sports science nerds think he’s alright to play 90 now though which is good for us – and we’re going to need big minutes from the four forwards until Salah is back.
I thought we were done with the goals given Jota’s fancying of Joe in Row 10 of the Kop but we still had time for one more. A diagonal from Dom to Diaz, a diagonal from Diaz to Bradley who fizzed the ball across goal on the bounce for Gravenberch to nod home right at the death. I don’t think Gravenberch will feel that was the best he could have played but he’s now got three goals for us – more goals coming from midfield is great stuff. Curtis has definitely lifted the bar there and an extra 10-15 from that part of the pitch could be crucial come May.
But two assists for Bradley – that’s hugely impressive for a young lad with as little first team football at Liverpool’s level as he has. He was Bolton’s player of the season last year – I know that because my son Jack presented him with the award. Jack is quickly growing into a Red, don’t you worry. He was absolutely superb at League One level last season and he just looks so comfortable. It’s the Jurgen effect obviously but the only thing he has done wrong was get squared up for the Fulham goal on Wednesday night. I reckon he’d have another 7-10 appearances under his belt had he not been injured early in the season. I’ve been waiting to have a good look at him and boy am I glad we have had the chance.
So yeah, life moves on. We’ve loved and lost before, we will absolutely love and lose again. I still think there was a bit of a stunned feeling around the ground because it’s all so sudden. We thought we had another season of this at least and yet here we are contemplating where we go from here. The simple answer is onto the next game which is frankly a bigger fish to fry – we will need the crowd more in that game than we ever were going to against these jeering bums.
The timing of the announcement is strange, I hope that this is to try and galvanise the crowd to be stronger than ever on the run in. We’re fighting on four fronts and let’s be honest, Watford at home is not a million miles away from what we would have been wanting. We have a chance to go very deep in the FA Cup as well and leveraging the last of our time together with Jurgen is going to play a huge role in our quest for all the gold.
Star man – The FA Cup, Roy of the Rovers, Jumpers for Goalposts, Giant Killing, Sheepskin coat wearing cliched gobshite part of me wants to give it to McConnell for his excellent performance on his first start at Anfield. And he’s up there. But I am going to give it to Conor Bradley – two assists, looking so measured and composed and had Gakpo not got the yips it would have been three assists. Honourable mentions to Jones and Nunez as well.
Team: Alisson; Bradley, Konate (Van Dijk), Quansah, Gomez (Robertson); McConnell (Diaz), Gravenberch, Jones (Szoboslai); Jota, Nunez (Alexander-Arnold), Gakpo: