I’ll be honest, even as I was walking up to Anfield on Friday evening I wasn’t quite ready for the football season to start again. Last year was emotionally draining, caring about not only our results but also the results of Manchester City from as early as mid-September. Every match felt like a must-win and the Community Shield performance of both teams suggested that we were in for another ten months of that this time around. As I approached the stadium, however, I realised that the atmosphere felt different. It was buoyant, with everyone streaming towards the ground ready to welcome back the European champions as the conquering heroes that they are. The atmosphere carried on into the ground, being the best that I’ve heard it for some time. I know that the stresses and strains of the campaign will take away that sense of fun as it wears on, but for now I’m happy to embrace the idea of football as enjoyment once again.
— Anfield Watch Photos (@CapturedReds) August 9, 2019
That’s not to say that I stood there with a smile on my face for the whole ninety minutes. The second-half annoyed me, even though I rationally understand that we’ve got to jet off to Istanbul for an inconvenient UEFA Super Cup this week. I do get that the manager might well have told his players during the interval to ease off the gas in the second-half, conserving their energy in order to cope with the two tough games they’ll have over the course of the next week. Chelsea might not have walked away from Old Trafford with a feeling of pride in their performance, but Jürgen Klopp won’t be so naive as to think that means it will be a cakewalk for us at the Atatürk Stadium. Then there’s the small matter of a trip to play Ralph Hassenhutl’s Southampton team, who’ll be smarting after their defeat to Burnley on Saturday. The season’s back in full-swing, but will our lack of ruthlessness prove to be our downfall?
Norwich Were Better Than The Scoreline Suggests
Before the match I said that if Liverpool couldn’t beat a newly promoted side on the first game of the season at home on a Friday night then we had no right even talking about a title challenge. Obviously that wasn’t a problem, given that the Reds raced into a 4-0 lead by half-time and the Kop was signing ‘show them the way to go home’ before they’d even had their oranges. I was impressed with Norwich City, though. They reminded me of a story a friend of mine told me of when he was trying to become a member of Royal Liverpool Golf Club and in order to do so had to play a round in front of the committee. One of them was a doddery old man with a walking stick who came out, watch him hit his tee shot and proceeded to say, “good enough for me”, before tottering back inside. Had been judging whether the Canaries were good enough to stay up I imagine he’d have seen their second-half, said they’d be fine and walked off.
Friday’s match against Norwich was only the 4th match at Anfield in which their opponents restricted Liverpool to fewer than 500 passes since the start of the 2017/18 season. The others were against Tottenham (twice) and Man City! pic.twitter.com/VOy03w3g7M
— Constantinos Chappas (@cchappas) August 10, 2019
Whilst I was disappointed with our second-half performance, it would be churlish of me not to point out how well Norwich played. We took a four goal lead before half-time but the Canaries were better than that scoreline suggested That they join an illustrious list that previously only included Manchester City and Tottenham of sides that restricted us to fewer than five hundred passes over the past three seasons says a lot about how well they did under the lights at Anfield. We didn’t exactly look rock solid at the back, but they cut us open a number of times and were perhaps a tad unfortunate when it came to their own defensive frailties. If the match had finished 4-3 I’m not sure that would’ve flattered them. It’s one thing to talk about our lack of clinical finishing, but in doing so it’s important to acknowledge how hard the opposition worked to restrict our chances and the Canaries deserve plenty of credit on that front.
It’s Not About Goal Difference But The Message It Sends
Personally I couldn’t care less about goal difference. Everyone spent half of last season panicking about it but in the end it would have taken a ridiculous confluence of events to mean that it was even remotely relevant to the destination of the title. I’m equally skeptical that it will matter much this time around, with the key factor almost certain to be which team wins the mini-league between the top six sides in the Premier League. I didn’t care that we didn’t hit Norwich for seven or eight from a goal difference point of view, therefore, but I was disappointed that we didn’t put our foot on their throats and batter them because of the message that sends out to Manchester City and the rest of the division. Last year teams were beaten before their games against Pep Guardiola’s side even kicked off, heading into them with a sense of begging the Cityzens not to score ten against them. We could do with a similar thing happening in our matches.
Very easy to feel like ‘here we go again’ and be dispirited after City battered West Ham, and let that cloud over Liverpool thumping Norwich. But then you risk wasting an entire season worrying about what City do, which is beyond Liverpool’s control.
— Joel Rabinowitz (@joel_archie) August 10, 2019
That’s to say nothing of how City’s players will have felt heading into their match with West Ham seeing that we’d won 7-0, knowing that they’ve got a long season ahead of them in which we’re going to match them every step of the way. Of course they’d still have beaten the Hammers comfortably, but they would have known early doors that they’ve got to fight for every point if they hope to shake us off their tail. There’s something to be said for that certainty of knowing you’re going to be in a battle and not have another procession on your hands. Finally, we suffered too many draws last season that we might not have had if the team had been a little bit more ruthless when it mattered. The likes of the game at Old Trafford springs to mind, for example. Getting into the habit of being ruthless in front of goal is no bad thing, so I hope we put our foot on Chelsea’s throat on Wednesday night and don’t stop squeezing.