Brendan Rodgers found himself under heavy scrutiny this week for a string of poor performances and questionable tactical decisions. Last week, Liverpool reached their lowest point under the guidance of Rodgers going down to rivals Manchester United 3-1. The Europa League fixture in mid-week saw the return of Mamadou Sakho (who signed a new contract with the club) and Alberto Moreno to the starting line up, and after solid performances in a 1-1 draw with Olympic Lyon, both retained their spots to make their first starting appearances of the Premier League season.
Liverpool were also bolstered by the return from injury of Daniel Sturridge who made his much anticipated return to the Liverpool squad at a time of need for his particular skill set.
The return of Sturridge was dampened by news that captain Jordan Henderson will be sidelined for two months after breaking a bone in his foot during his first training session back from a heel knock he had been sidelined with for the past three weeks.
Anfield was tense throughout the early exchanges with the usually vocal supporters intensely quiet during the first half. Captain James Milner was booked for a poor challenge inside the opening few minutes after giving away possession poorly. The captain showed poor judgement as he lunged in to stop Norwich from counter attacking and had to play 88 minutes on a booking.
Mamadou Sakho was exceptional in the first half and certainly proved his selection over the out of form Dejan Lovren. Sakho was solid defensively in stifling Norwich’s attacks, but was also exceptional with the ball at his feet distributing several deft passes and showing off a previously unheralded passing ability. With Skrtel acting as the middle enforcer, Sakho and Can enjoyed plenty of the ball and were able to ignite the attack from the back line.
Coutinho looked lively and was a welcomed sight for Liverpool after serving his one match ban. His ability to receive the ball facing his own goal and have the ability to scoop, turn and distribute to the wings or forwards provided a formidable link between the defense and attackers which was severely missing last week against the Red Devils.
Moreno was excellent down the left flank and was able to find space time and time again and swing in delicious crosses and passes from the left hand side. He set up Milner superbly and the Liverpool captain probably should have opened the scoring, and could have had two goals as two chances were blocked away.
Milner was poor and wasteful at times in possession and was not clinical enough to make the most of the goal scoring chances he was able to have.
Norwich were able to find some space at times on the counter but Liverpool enjoyed long spells of possession and their fluid play was unlucky to not be rewarded with an opening goal.
Christian Benteke didn’t appear for the second half due to a hamstring injury and Danny Ings was brought on to try and build his own chemistry with Daniel Sturridge.
Two minutes into his shift, Moreno put Ings through with a beautiful first time lob after Lucas had forced the turnover. Ings controlled on his chest before finishing with his left through the legs of Norwich keeper John Ruddy. The goal came against the grain as Norwich had started off the better of the two sides out of the break and Moreno’s quick attacking thinking unleashed Ings for his first goal as a Red sending the Anfield faithful into pandemonium.
Liverpool regained momentum after the goal and were able to get themselves time on the ball with Sakho and Can continuing to drive the ball forward and to the wings.
In the 61st minute, after a poor punched clearance by Simon Mignolet, Norwich defender Russel Martin was able to dink the ball over the recovering Mignolet and into the net with no Liverpool player on the front post after the corner. The goal came as a crushing blow to Liverpool’s hard work and certainly made the players and manager rue all the missed opportunities.
Mignolet redeemed himself by making a superb reactive save to deny Matt Jarvis who had creeped in front of the Liverpool defenders to direct a Nathan Redmond cross goalward.
Sturridge was pulled off for Lallana (who scored in the Europa League mid-week) and Firmino came on for Lucas as Liverpool shifted their formation to try and get the much needed three points. Coutinho had the pick of the chances as he was left one on one with Ruddy who made a body save for the corner.
Liverpool were stifled the rest of the contest with poor corners from Milner and many half chances that were squandered leaving Brendan Rodgers with more questions over poor results at home. At least the performance was a significant improvement over the previous weeks.
Formation & Tactics
Liverpool lined up in a 5-3-2 formation with Can, Skrtel and Sakho across the back line, while Clyne and Moreno acted as wing backs with freedom to push forward. The midfield featured Lucas in the holding role with Milner and Coutinho ahead. Christian Benteke and Daniel Sturridge shared the field for the first time with many eyes on their chemistry in order to project future success.
With Norwich happy to sit back and look for counter attacking opportunities, Liverpool’s defenders were given ample time on the ball with Can and Sakho distributing the ball well up the field. The width provided with the two wide men helped stretch the field horizontally and afforded Benteke, Sturridge and Countinho plenty of space to work with in the attacking third.
Liverpool’s midfield pressed Norwich and created numerous turnovers & interceptions. Lucas and Sakho were the pick of the bunch in playing downhill on the Norwich attackers and preventing them from turning upfield.
With Liverpool looking for a winner late in the game, Rodgers opted to return to his usual 4-3-3 shape with Can holding midfield, Danny Ings at the summit of the formation with Milner, Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana all floating around attempting to generate scoring chances.
Liverpool’s build up play was superb compared to their past few encounters and they enjoyed plenty of useful possession. Sturridge and Benteke were able to combine well for the most part but will obviously benefit from more time alongside one another, health permitting. The width provided by the personnel and formation made a huge impact on the flow and quality of the midfield distribution with Coutinho, Lucas and Milner enjoying spells of possession that have been missing in the past few weeks.
Christian Benteke and Daniel Sturridge were paired for the first time at the forefront of Liverpool’s formation. Neither have shown that they will work very hard defensively and the 5-3-2 worked well as their presence kept the Norwich back 4 at home for the majority of the contest thus negating their lack of defensive work. They showed flashes of combining very well as they looked for each other with one notable instance when Benteke heel-flicked nicely and just missed out on the connection to a bursting Sturridge.
Sturridge was evidently still returning to match form with a few poor touches and seemingly moving a little stiffly at times. With both players prone to injury, their health will be a prerequisite of a healthy long term partnership. Benteke’s hamstring injury opened the door for a Sturridge-Ings partnership which, goal aside, did not look as fruitful as the Benteke-Sturridge one.
Ings quickly made an impact after coming on as he pushed forward quickly providing a quality outlet for Moreno’s superb distribution to get his Liverpool scoring account ticking. Ings is full of energy and always looking to pounce. He nearly scooted around Ruddy to get the game winner late in the contest but his touch let him down. He offers much more in terms of hustle than Benteke or Sturridge but can look rigid at times on the ball.
Lucas was preferred as the holding midfielder after being on the verge of leaving prior to the season. He offered calm on the ball and applied pressure well defensively, forcing the errand pass that Moreno eventually turned to Ings for the lone Liverpool goal. He was brought off when the formation shifted to chase the three points but may have been a better option on the field in the holding role over Can.
Milner was underwhelming again and his intensity had to be curbed after grabbing a quick booking early in the game. He had two good scoring chances which were blocked and turned the ball over numerous times. Milner has yet to impress at Liverpool and probably should have made way instead of Lucas.
Coutinho was, once again, the stand out in midfield featuring heavily in possession. He was frustrated at the end of the game as he tried to push for a winning goal but it was not his day to rattle the net. He was vibrant and active and was a welcomed return for Liverpool fans.
Substitutes Lallana and Firmino were decent in the time they spent on the field but neither were able to make a significant impact on proceedings.
The positive performances of Sakho and Moreno may leave more question marks for Brendan Rodgers as he preferred Lovren and Gomez for 5 games before making a switch. Sakho was superb in this fixture and possibly the best on ground for the Reds. Moreno also shone very brightly, setting up the Ings goal as well as creating multiple chances for his teammates.
Skrtel was quiet but was well protected by his midfield and Sakho and did not look like he was defending for two as he occasionally does beside Lovren. Can was excellent on the ball as a makeshift defender who was given attacking freedom.
Clyne did not experience his best outing but spread the field good and balanced nicely with the lively Moreno.
Mignolet was not bothered too much apart from the goal. The difference he showed off the corner that led to the Martin goal paled in comparison to his counterpart John Ruddy who was a force at picking and grabbing the ball off Liverpool’s corners. Unfortunately one poor play from Mignolet was enough to see 2 points wasted. He made a nice save to deny Jarvis but the Liverpool keeper is still raising question marks and with no proven replacement to threaten his position he will be between the sticks for the foreseeable future.
*Timezone – AEST