Watching the emphatic displays from United and Chelsea earlier this weekend, it was hard not to have at least a bit of doubt creep into one’s mind. Especially if one is a Liverpool supporter. Turns out that one need not have worried, because the merseysiders put out a fine display of their own, dominating in that way that Klopp teams do – by harassing and grinding you down in your own half to the point where you just can’t take it anymore, and leak a goal here, two there.
Last season it stopped working only because of the hundred-year flood kind of injury crisis, particularly in the back line, which by necessity led to a more cautious, less confident style of play. Ultimately it cost the team what otherwise would have likely been a fairly comfortable repeat.
No such problems anymore.
Wasn’t it lovely to see big man Van Dijk back there, telling everyone to just go forward because he’s got them covered? Wasn’t it great to watch Matip next to him, seeing how two natural centerbacks handle many situations that only a few months ago would have easily embarrassed the Reds, and perhaps resulted in a couple of Pukki pokes? And how having a senior pair like that back there allows both Tsimikas – who had a decent game until he got gassed – and especially the glowing diamond in Trent to display their attacking prowess? Not to mention how it relieves the midfield to try and create, an opportunity they mostly failed to capitalize on right until the two Brazilians joined the fray around the hour mark.
Oh, but when they did.
It seems by the lineup and subs that Klopp is interested in a bit more squad rotation this season, maybe a lesson learned. But how much Fabinho and Firmino add when they play in the side is compelling and undeniable. After another moment of total confusion induced by the latter towards the end, I found myself yelling joyfully at the TV, “he’s such a criminal!” because Bobby will rob you blind while flashing that huge smile and really, you just can’t be mad at him. And so as they came on, Liverpool turned up the heat, and the Canaries were effectively relegated to the stands.
That three of the front four grabbed themselves a goal was a treat. That Salah actually gave up a golden opportunity to get a second in an obvious attempt to have Mane join the party was delightful to see.
With a goal and two assists, several more close calls to raise his tally in either column, and looking at least two months sharper into the season than he is, the Egyptian is the obvious man-of-the-match. But for me, the more important aspect of today’s game was that back line. We know what this team can do, when it isn’t worried about constantly looking over its shoulder. Norwich, after all, is pretty good at picking you apart on the counter. Yet today, they never really got close on that front.
And that, my good merseyside friends, is real cause for celebration.