By David Lynch
Ask any Liverpool supporter and they will tell you that the club’s Premier League campaign thus far has comprised a string of impressive performances punctuated by moments of madness.
Daniel Agger’s needless red card against West Brom, Martin Skrtel’s ill-advised backpass to Carlos Tevez and Jonjo Shelvey’s wild lunge on Jonny Evans are just some of the indiscretions which have seen the Reds’ efforts not fully rewarded with deserved points. However, against Norwich on Saturday, the fans will need to see more; Brendan Rodgers must provide evidence that the ‘method’ part of that popular Shakespearean phrase is present in his team.
Make no mistake, the fixture list threw together a nightmare opening run for the 39-year-old upon his appointment, but these have provided useful context for loyal backers during a barren run. With the Canaries, Stoke and Reading on the horizon though, worries about a poor start must be dispelled with the only inarguable currency in football – three points.
Even last season’s edition of this fixture at Carrow Road will provide little leeway for the Northern Irishman as, amidst a calamitous run-in during which the Merseyside outfit picked up just seven points from their final 10 games, the Reds handed out a 3-0 hammering. Luis Suarez, who had been inconceivably wasteful in front of goal all season, netted a hat-trick – with one of his strikes coming from the halfway line – as part of a Liverpool which seemed to have appeared from a parallel universe for just one day.
The performance served as a paradigm of Kenny Dalglish’s vision for the club, one which was ultimately never realised in the league due to a combination of poor mentality and the width of the goal-frame. And Rodgers must show that similar setbacks in the shape of injuries, red cards and individual errors will not serve to define his reign at Anfield.
Of course, the goodwill which has been afforded him by Kopites – a mood best evinced by the chants of “one Brendan Rodgers” even during defeat to Manchester United – is finite. Now, the positive aspects of the Reds’ performances so far must come together and, in spite of the results, Rodgers will know there have been several.
Joe Allen’s seamless introduction to midfield, as best signified by a 10-man Reds dominating the ball against United, is one, whilst Raheem Sterling’s emergence on the flanks is another. Steven Gerrard gave his best performance of the season against Sir Alex Ferguson’s men and Daniel Agger could be in contention to face the Canaries, an eventuality which looked unlikely just days ago.
With key players such as these fit and firing, Liverpool will have few excuses should they fail to edge out Chris Hughton’s side at Carrow Road. No talk of East Anglia being a “tough place to go” will suffice because, quite simply, the Reds have the ability to name a better team on the day.
Whilst confidence can never be derived from defeat to your greatest rivals, the reality of that showing will have sunk in amongst the squad. That just days ago a team packed heavily with youngsters confidently won a fixture which the senior players lost 3-0 on the opening day should also provide some measure of motivation.
One man who was central to that win, two-goal midfielder Nuri Sahin, may no longer be a youngster at the age of 24 but provided perhaps the most interesting quandary of all. The Real Madrid loanee recently insisted he is still short of match fitness following injury but looked so impressive at the Hawthorns that to not select him during Shelvey’s suspension would be criminal.
The Turkey international almost single-handedly dominated the impressive Youssouf Mulumbu, something which Liverpool’s ‘first-choice’ midfield failed to do as a unit back in August. That he also showed a rare willingness to break into the box will surely play on Rodgers’ mind; his is still a team which lacks goals.
And that, perhaps more than curing the mania which has affected his players at choice moments this term, is the biggest task facing the manager. If he can fix that toothlessness with some systemic wizardry then it won’t be just Norwich put to the sword in the coming weeks, but it is a big ask.
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