Football Features

Salah back to his very best in 2019/20? Five things learned as Liverpool beat bold Norwich 4-1

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:10, 9 August 2019

In an exciting night at Anfield, Liverpool beat Norwich 4-1 to kick-off the 2019/20 Premier League season.

The Reds got off to a fast start, taking the lead in the opening 10 minutes. They had four by half-time and, although Norwich pulled one back in the second half, Liverpool are top of the league! But what did we learn?

1. Salah looks sharp

Fatigue is a seven letter word.

So is success.

Guess which one applies to Mohamed Salah? You’d expect, having returned from international duty a little under two weeks ago, it would be fatigue. That would be understandable after two long seasons – one ending with injury – that culminated with international tournaments through the summer. You wouldn’t begrudge him for looking a bit rubbish.

But Salah looked ferociously sharp instead. Last week in the Community Shield, he was promising with his movement but his decision-making in the final third was appalling. That made sense. Today, however, he was locked in. Salah tormented Norwich from start to finish. Jamal Lewis couldn’t live with his pace, no Norwich defender could handle his movement.

Salah scored a trademark strike and came close on a few other occasions. Even more impressively was the way he linked with his team-mates, selflessly sliding the ball around smartly for players in better positions. And one sublime backheel put Alexander-Arnold in and could have led to a goal. After the magic high of 32 goals in 2017/18, he “only” managed 22 in 2018/19. On the evidence of tonight, we could see him get back to the very best in 2019/20.

2. Trent Alexander-Arnold is a problem

Trent Alexander-Arnold is a problem. That is true in the figurative sense of him being so good that he presents a problem for opponents and the literal sense that he is a fairly serious issue for Liverpool to figure out as well. First, the good: Alexander-Arnold is among the finest attacking full-backs on planet earth. This cannot be denied.

Alexander-Arnold ended 2018/19 with 12 assists in the league, a single-season record for a defender. His crossing, both from the by-line and deep, as well as his set-piece delivery, make him one of the Reds’ most devastating attacking outlets. Against Norwich, he produced countless chances and set-up Divock Origi’s header with a breathtaking cross – his fifth consecutive league game with an assist. That is absurd.

But Alexander-Arnold is not a great defender. He can tackle and has the athletic ability to handle himself 1v1, he’s good at that, but in terms of positional defending, knowing where danger is, he’s average at best. Teams repeatedly find joy in attacking the space around him because he leaves so much of it. The Canaries managed to ping the ball around down the left-flank, with Teemu Pukki finding plenty of space between Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez. Nothing came of these forays but the warning signs were there.

Norwich’s goal, albeit meaningless to the result, came because Alexander-Arnold did nothing to handle Pukki’s run in behind Gomez, even though he was staring right at him. That’s why he didn’t start in the Camp Nou last season, and that’s why he was taken off in the Community Shield even though Liverpool were chasing the result. It’s not a problem in games like this, but tighter contests? It’s a problem.

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3. Norwich are not afraid

Despite the scoreline, Daniel Farke will be heading back to Norwich with a smile on his face. Not a big smile, mind, they did get smacked around Anfield and conceded four goals in the first half, but a smile nonetheless because whilst the Canaries may not have been on song against Liverpool, they did manage to hit a few high notes.

Obviously, any side is going to struggle at Anfield, Liverpool haven’t lost a Premier League game there in over a year (Crystal Palace in April 2017 were the last away side to leave with three points), but even though they got absolutely splattered all over the place, they never stopped playing their game. They constantly drove forward, cutting the Liverpool defence to ribbons at times – they finished the match with 12 shots!

Of course, they lacked the firepower to make anything of these chances against the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson (before he went off), but the fact that they penetrated a defensive perimeter like Liverpool’s so consistently speaks very well about their ability to scale their attacking system to the Premier League. When they had the ball, they flowed. It was a delight!

Just look at how well crafted their consolation goal in the second half was. Even when they were 4-0 down, they kept pushing forward and justifiably got their reward. The big boys may dominate Norwich because of their frankly diabolical defending (they handed Liverpool three of the first four goals with some staggeringly naive defending) but Norwich’s fearless approach should see them win a fair few games.

4. Don’t sleep on Divock

It’s easy to laugh at Liverpool relying on Divock Origi to be their main back-up forward. The Belgian was something of a non-entity for most of last season, scoring a fluke in the Merseyside derby but beyond that, he did nothing. But when they called on him against Barcelona, he scored twice. And again in the Champions League final. The point is, when they needed him, he was there.

Is he as good as Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mané? Of course not. He’s nowhere near their level. But that’s the point. He will be happy to spend a lot of the season on the bench, letting Liverpool’s front three do their thing. But when Jurgen Klopp calls on him, when Liverpool need him to perform, he has the athletic skill to do just that.

Look at tonight, he started on the left-wing, tormented poor Max Aarons, created the first goal and scored the fourth with a lovely run and guided header. He’s not great, but he is good and for games like this, where they may want to rotate or rest their superstars, that’s all Liverpool need.

5. Arise Adrian

Alisson had an utterly ridiculous run to end 2018/19. He didn’t concede a goal for his last three club games (including eight saves in the Champions League final victory) and then carried that forward into the Copa América where he didn’t concede until the final. He began this season looking sharp and in command in goal for Liverpool, until an injury forced him off.

Liverpool will be hoping Alisson’s injury isn’t serious but if it is, they will be turning to new signing Adrian. The Spaniard signed from West Ham to replace Simon Mignolet over the summer and was instantly thrust into the action at Anfield. He made a couple of nice saves but he couldn’t keep a clean sheet as Pukki scored.

Obviously, he will be well protected by Liverpool’s defence in most games and he’s not a bad goalkeeper, but he’s hardly Alisson, is he? If he has to have a long stretch in goal, this is going to be interesting to see how Liverpool’s defence copes without the shot-stopping and organisational abilities of their big Brazilian.