Liverpool’s title challenge is off to a serene start. Goals at the mid-point of either half from Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino defused the Carrow Road occasion, and after Mohamed Salah’s curler wrapped-up the points, the jubilant away support was in olé mode.
The Reds only gave up one truly significant opportunity in the match – the Teemu Pukki shot from the right side of the area after Todd Cantwell’s ball in-behind. I say ‘truly significant’ because, by the time Alisson Becker nonchalantly slapped the ball behind amid a melee to preserve his clean sheet, the result was long settled.
Liverpool won comfortably, and it’s worth noting that they did so in the absence of not just Andrew Robertson, but their entire first-choice midfield.
Jota vs Firmino
Who has the edge in the battle between Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino? Well, it’s still hard to say. Jota started, Firmino replaced him, and both players scored.
There’s a real possibility that Jurgen Klopp’s initial selection was down to fitness rather than form. Portugal’s Round of 16 exit from the European Championships meant Jota enjoyed a longer pre-season than Copa America finalist Firmino.
Jota found the net but there was room for improvement in the all-round performance. He recorded just 25 touches in his hour on the pitch, with Firmino racking up 19 in half the time. Klopp will want him to be more involved.
Beyond the numbers, there were a few occasions where you sensed a slight lack of understanding between himself and the two wingers, who weren’t quite sure whether to come short or run in-behind when Jota picked it up.
That understanding, of course, comes with game-time. By my reckoning, this was the only the seventh match that trio have started together. I personally hope Jurgen Klopp sticks with this combination, but I can understand why many prefer the traditional set-up.
The clash with title rivals Chelsea at the end of this month should be the real indicator of Klopp’s preferences.
(Quick side-note here – I’m convinced Cantwell’s scything challenge denied us an absolutely outrageous Jota solo goal).
The verdict on Virgil
So, Virgil van Dijk’s first competitive outing since his injury – how did he fare? For viewers of his most recent friendly outings, there weren’t really any surprises.
As he did against Bilbao and Bologna, he threw his weight around where required and launched attacks with the trademark diagonals that leave you feeling warm inside. Warm like when my Mum first offered me a sip of gin.
But the slight sluggishness was there too. That’s to be expected, but it was a little disconcerting to see the opposition find momentary joy in playing passes in behind him. More generally, Van Dijk doesn’t look like he wants to push himself to the limit just yet.
We were all prepared to wait for his reintroduction, maybe even until after the international break. But to speculate for a moment, Klopp might have looked at these first two games as a relatively low-risk opportunity to build his match-fitness.
Predictably, he didn’t have all that much defending to do, and he may be even less busy against Burnley next week (they’ll likely have less possession than Norwich’s 49%). Here, he was up against Teemu Pukki, and next week it’ll be Chris Wood, neither of whom can be said rely on raw speed. Those battles suit him for now.
The hope might be that Van Dijk comes through both games at 75% and is then approaching his former levels by the time Chelsea and a world-class no. 9 visit Anfield.
Let’s settle on a six for Tsimikas
Another of the players under heightened scrutiny here was Kostas Tsimikas, in for the injured Andrew Robertson. It’d be fair to describe it as a mixed display.
Most importantly, he was effective going forward. The Greek scouser had two standout moments. First, he intelligently manoeuvred his way past Max Aarons and sent a teasing a ball across the face for Jota, with Grant Hanley at full stretch to deny him what would have been a superb assist. Then, not long after the hour, he tested Krul with a fiercely-struck shot after a late run into the area.
Defensively, it was less convincing. Twice he clumsily lost possession and handed Norwich opportunities. A Milot Rashica take-on nearly had me fearing a repeat of Andrew Robertson’s ankle injury.
For the functioning of the team, though, I’d argue it’s most important that Tsimikas contributes offensively. He’s shown he can do that, and there’s only so much you can expect from a back-up left-back.
Overall, it was probably a six out of 10 for his Premier League debut.
Trent was ‘quietly really good’
Mohamed Salah was of course a worthy man of the match with his headline contribution. He took home the club award with an emphatic 82% of the vote, just the 74% clear of his nearest challenger Virgil van Dijk.
Liverpool also nominated Trent Alexander-Arnold, and rightfully so. He was quietly really good.
Trent maintained defensive concentration throughout and hardly put a foot wrong at his own end. He was immensely solid, perhaps relived to see the opposition target the left-hand side for once.
He also created three opportunities, the best of which fell to Sadio Mane after a laser-guided driven cross from the byline. Had Mane gone with his right foot rather than his left, Trent would likely be off the mark for assists.
A word on Ox & Keita
I feel as if a pattern is emerging for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. When he starts, he seems to end up being substituted early more often than not. He doesn’t do an awful lot wrong, but you can’t recall too much he’s done right either.
This will probably go down as another opportunity squandered. Naby Keita, another beneficiary of Jordan Henderson and Thiago’s absence, didn’t feed the attack in the manner that might have been expected but was pleasingly tireless. He finished the game with six tackles; no other Liverpool player made more than three.