Liverpool overcame their own profligacy and defensive sloppiness to overcome a determined and direct minded Norwich side at Carrow Road this afternoon to secure all three points and take a five point advantage into the final three games of the season. A typically high-tempo start from Brendan Rodgers’ side was tempered after a stout second half performance from the home side to set up a heart-stopping final 10 minutes as is now becoming customary for the league leaders. In fact, the whole of the Barclays Premier League at this stage in the campaign if the truth be known.
As suspected, Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva formed the centre pairing in the “engine room” in place of the suspended Jordan Henderson. Philippe Coutinho came into the three-manned attack to accompany Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling, in place of Daniel Sturridge who, as expected was not able to make the squad due to a Hamstring stain. Mamadou Sakho kept his place in defence to partner Martin Skrtel following his impressive display last time out. Steven Gerrard continued his commanding role in front of the back four. The stage was set for another show of attacking intent and possession football from Rodgers’ team.
True to form and expectation, man of the moment Sterling opened the scoring on four minutes after a bright start by the visitors. Receiving the ball on the edge of the Norwich penalty area, wrong footing the on rushing defence and unleashing an unstoppable drive into the left corner and past the helpless John Ruddy. Liverpool were in front. The writing was on the wall for Norwich “Here we go again!” it said. Brendan Rodgers’ men were in control as the hosts struggled to contain the attacking play. On 11 minutes, Liverpool extended their lead further.
The scorer Sterling turning provider as his centre from the left into the home side penalty box was cooly despatched by Luis Suarez for his 30th goal in a sensational season for him. As of now, the visitors were dominant in possession, in control and passed the ball around in masterly fashion. It was all Neil Adams’ side could do to keep pace, let alone get a consistent foot-hold on the ball. Chances went a begging for the Reds as Allen went close following well-timed runs from deep that caught the home side rearguard napping.
Alas, an old expression came to bear: Football is a game of two halves. This one certainly was. Whatever Neil Adams put in his side’s half-time cup of tea I’ll forever wonder. I just hope it wasn’t a banned substance because the side came out transformed. The aerial bombardment began and Norwich began to apply pressure. After 54 minutes, they got their recompense. Or gift to use a word more descriptive of Liverpool’s defending. Simon Mignolet mistimed his punch and collided with the incoming Bradley Johnson, leaving the goal as open as Harrods for Gary Hooper to stab home. The home side smelt defensive frailty.
The visitors however are not as easy to conquer as they have been in recent times and set about reasserting their dominance. Sterling burst through into the home side’s penalty area in the 62nd minute beating one defender and firing a tame effort toward goal only for Johnson to deflect it unluckily into his own goal. Ruddy could only lay there in exasperation, spread-eagled in submission as the visitors restored their two-goal advantage. Liverpool, one would think had the game won by now and for a short time pushed the ball around comfortably. Their hosts weren’t about to throw in the towel.
Norwich continued to ask questions of the visiting defence, who continued to stutter the answers. On 77 minutes Liverpool duly ran out of said answers and Norwich were back in the game. A long ball forward was centred by Nathan Redmond and met by Robert Snodgrass out jumping the static Jon Flanagan to head home a second for Adams’s men. Rodgers’s side dug deep and hung on as the Canaries ploughed forward and pushed high balls into the area to profit from the shaky defence in front of them. Only Mignolet’s reflexes saved the day for the visitors in another nail-biting finish.
Credit must go to Adam’s side and their endeavour. Adams said before the match he had identified some weaknesses in the Liverpool side and that he intended to exploit them. Clearly there are no prizes for guessing he must have spotted, like any living human, that Liverpool have a defence that is about as robust as a glass roof in a hale storm, and thus unlikely to withstand constant, heavy aerial bombardment and to be fair to him, his tactics almost bore fruit. Unfortunately they didn’t and the Reds returned to the North-West three points better off.
Liverpool have ended the week five points ahead in what’s turning out to be one of the most enthralling title races in years. both Chelsea and Manchester City lost points this weekend. With three games to play – five in the case of City, it’s still mathematically possible for any of the three leaders to win. Let’s dare to dream. But, at the same time, we can’t afford to get caught napping. Next stop home for a massive fixture against Jose Mourinho’s men.
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