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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If Liverpool do win the league, Gerrard’s team-talk after the 3-2 win at City demanding the team produce ‘exactly the same’ against Norwich will surely go down in club folklore. Borini’s winner at Chelsea yesterday, meant this match had the opportunity to give Liverpool the initiative in title race, and Gerrard’s team grasped the opportunity, with a dramatic 3-2 victory at Carrow Road, a game as nail-biting as the scoreline suggests. Norwich made one change from the side who lost 1-0 to Fulham, trying to solve their problems in front of goal by swapping mis-firing striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel with Gary Hooper. Liverpool were forced into two changes, due to Sturridge’s injury and Henderson’s suspension, both gained in the last game at home to Manchester City. Lucas and Allen came in as replacements, leaving Suarez as the only recognised striker in the line-up.
Liverpool have started their matches quickly all season, and today was no exception, as an absolute bullet from Sterling gave the away side a lead just four minutes in. After some impressive passing early on, Sterling received the ball, worked the ball onto his right foot and hit a long range drive which Ruddy was powerless to prevent reaching the back of the net. This was the 9th goal of his season, where he has really proved all his doubters wrong. Sterling started the season struggling for game time, usually only coming off the bench late on in matches or starting the cup games, but since December, the 19 year old has become a crucial part of the side which are now clear favourites to win the league. Minutes later, Liverpool had a glorious chance to double their lead, with only Ruddy’s alertness preventing Allen’s shot inside the area resulting in a goal, parrying it away to safety. Liverpool remained camped inside the Norwich half, and their attacking attitude paid off moments later, when Suarez latched onto Sterling’s pass from the left hand side to cooly place the ball into the right hand corner, for his 30th goal of a season where he missed the first five games.
For Norwich, this was also a massive game, with the Canaries lying precariously close to the relegation zone with games against United, Chelsea and Arsenal to come. A period of sustained pressure from the home side resulted in some great opportunities to pull one back, the best one coming from Hooper, who had a shot well blocked by Allen, and the follow up from Fer dealt with by Lucas. Joe Allen ensured that Henderson’s energy and drive wasn’t missed in the early stages, displaying strength not usually associated with him, and closing down any decent opportunities carved out by the Premier League strugglers. He almost capped his fantastic early play with a goal, only to see his curled shot from 30 yards out fall just wide. Minutes later, Snodgrass fouled the Welshman, and was perhaps lucky to stay on the pitch after his dangerous two footed challenge, instead receiving a yellow card from Andre Marriner. Norwich continued to utilise the flanks, but Skrtel and Sakho largely dealt well with everything coming into the area, preventing Hooper from seeing too many opportunities in the first half. After an emotional week on Merseyside, a nice moment came towards the end of the first 45 minutes, when the travelling fans ‘Justice for the 96’ chant was warmly applauded by the Norwich fans. It was the home side who ended up the half dominantly, with Liverpool’s passing from the back becoming sloppy.
The Reds came close to killing the game off after the restart, after a fantastic 50 yard pass from Suarez found Coutinho, whose cutback was blasted over by Sterling, who had no time to prepare a shot. At the other end, Adams’ side continued to threaten, with Snodgrass’ shot being blocked, and Gerrard stepping in to prevent Redmond creating an opportunity for Hooper. However moments later, the home side pulled one back, courtesy of some poor goalkeeping from Mignolet. The Belgian flapped at a cross, and the ball fell in the perfect position for top scorer Gary Hooper, who poked it home. Norwich continued to pour forward, sensing that the goal had rattled Rodgers’ men, who looked lost in comparison. The tension increased, especially as Suarez spurned a decent opportunity to put Liverpool further ahead, his placed shot drifting wide of the post. After some defending, Sterling restored the two goal lead, ignoring the pleas of Suarez to pass down the right, instead taking on the Norwich defence himself, before winning a fortunate deflection off Michael Turner to loop the ball over John Ruddy.
Norwich kept fighting admirably, and Snodgrass almost caught Mignolet out, with a powerful shot aimed towards the right hand corner. The goalkeeper atoned for his previous mistake, however, and managed to push the ball away to relative safety. Liverpool should have put the game beyond doubt when Sterling was left in acres of space on the right hand side, but the winger failed to find Suarez or Allen in the box, and the attack broke down swiftly. Moments later, the Canaries got themselves back into the game yet again, after Snodgrass latched onto Redmond’s cross, beating Flanagan to the header. Once again, the nerves caused the away side to lose a great deal of composure, and were fortunate to get away with leaving youngster Josh Murphy completely unmarked on the left hand side, as the resulting chance was spurned by low-on-confidence Ricky Van Wolfswinkel. For the second week in a row, Liverpool were forced to attempt to run down the clock, and Sterling and Suarez did that job reasonably well, winning free kicks deep into the oppositions half. Lucas almost secured the win in injury time, but his shot was parried by Ruddy, and the rebound somehow failed to go in. The final chance was a free kick for the home side which saw the keeper brought up, but the delivery was poor, and the whistle blew to end an agonising last ten minutes for the Liverpool faithful.
The result not only put Liverpool five points clear at the top with three games to go, but also secured their participation in the Champions League next season. Fans know that the title is far from guaranteed, with a home game to Chelsea and an away trip to Palace still to come, but 11 straight wins in the league means a first title for over 20 years is no longer a dream, but a priority.
Sterling opened the scoring just after 5 mins with a splendid strike.
Thanks to @MostarLFC for the goal videos.
RS by LFCmostar
5 mins later Sterling with a great assist found Suarez and made it 2-0
LS by LFCmostar
Early in the 2nd half Norwich pulled one back.
In the 61st minute, Sterling made it 1-3
RS2 by LFCmostar
In the 77th minute Snodgrass made it 2-3
As expected Lucas and Allen both start to replace Henderson and Sturridge. Sturridge does not even make the bench, word is that he didn’t travel to Norwich.
Starting XI : Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Sakho, Flanagan, Gerrard, Lucas, Allen, Sterling, Coutinho, Suarez
Subs : Jones, Toure, Agger, Cissokho, Moses, Alberto, Aspas
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