Luis Suárez love affair with Norwich City continued this evening when the Liverpool striker carved himself a new Reds record – becoming the first player in their long and illustrious history to score three hat-tricks against the same, luckless club.
It was, simply, a case of watching a genius at work. The first and third goals were out of this world; football from a different planet. And it all took just 20 minutes. Bang, bang, bang.
The fourth wasn’t bad. A peach of a 74th minute free-kick to complete his night’s work – four of the five goals in a 5-1 defeat.
It wasn’t wholly a one-man show; Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho proved all-too much for the Canaries – even if they were reasonably tireless in their efforts to stem the Reds tide. Indeed, Bradley Johnson would even deliver a powerful header off a Nathan Redmond cross eight minutes from the end to give the travelling faithful something to cheer.
Briefly. Raheem Sterling added a fifth late on – Suárez this time providing the assist.
Of far greater relevance to the night’s proceedings were events elsewhere – Fulham failing to hang on to a potentially priceless win over Spurs. Chelsea kept Sunderland pinned to the bottom of the table. West Ham were the ones on the wobble with last night’s defeat at Palace.
And it would be churlish indeed to point too many fingers at boss Chris Hughton for the safety first policy that came with tonight’s daunting trip to Anfield. Not that it particularly worked.
Given Suárez’s form, it would be a moot point as to what might.
For out went Saturday’s match-winner Gary Hooper and in came Johnson to sit in front of the Norwich back four and block anything that came his way. Which proved to be quite a lot.
Johan Elmander was handed the thankless task of ploughing the lonely furrow up top; there was a second start, however, for Wes Hoolahan whose ability to use a ball intelligently would be a big help. On the rare times he got to see it.
In the event Jordan Henderson would prove to be merely the warm-up act for you-know-who as Liverpool pressed menancingly in the game’s opening exchanges, albeit if both Redmond and Jonny Howson had had a pop. Indeed Hoolahan would even force a save out of the home keeper.
But come the 16th minute mark, however, and normal service was resumed when it came to L Suárez versus Norwich City.
Deep ball downfield and yer man must have been a good 40-yards distant. No bother. With John Ruddy no more than four yards off his line, Suárez picked out the far corner and with the most sublime of finishes, arced the ball away and beyond a staggered City keeper.
It was the act of a striking genius. To which few sides in the world would have any answer. Norwich certainly didn’t.
Hoolahan continued to provide City’s best attacking threat, sneaking at the far post on the 25th minute mark only for his trusted left foot to shank wide when a right-foot wrap-round might have done rather better. But Norwich were ruffling a feather, to their credit.
Until his lordship grabbed No2. A low corner found Gerrard stooping low with an angled header into the six-yard box where Suárez lurked. After that it was pure technique – from the very top drawer as the ball was lifted over a helpless Ruddy.
Suárez 2, Norwich 0. The man was bang on course to claim his third hat-trick against the Norfolk side. He and ex-boss Paul Lambert have come to haunt the Canaries; they have no answer to either of them.
Suárez 3, Norwich 0 arrived in the 34th minute. Again it was genius. A flick over and away from the covering Leroy Fer, gave him half a yard – but he was still some 22-yards distant. And with at least two white shirts closing, there still looked to be little danger.
But, oh no. As the ball dropped down and invited the half-volley, so Suárez delivered in front of a delirious Kop – pinging his third inside the far upright as Ruddy despairingly dived to his left.
It was a stunning, 20-minute hat-trick. And ripped any hope of a result out of Norwich’s hands.
After the break, Ruddy needed to react well to tip a Joe Allen blast over his bar on 56 minutes. Sebastien Bassong had earlier been caught out badly by Gerrard. For once Suárez wasn’t on hand to take full advantage.
Ruddy did at least claim one save off the irrepressible Uruguayan in the 64th minute as he gunned for a fourth; by now teenager Josh Murphy was adding to his list of North-West outings as the youngster found himself gracing Anfield after his debut at the Etihad. On each occasion the game was long gone; on each occasion the 18-year-old showed few fears of the big stage.
Hooper would replace Elmander for the final 20 minutes; stretch his legs ahead of the more relevant trip to The Hawthorns.
Suárez still had one last party piece up his sleeve – a 25-yard free-kick with whip and bend to spare; that was up, over, down and round a helpless Norwich wall before beating Ruddy inside his right upright.
Johnson would briefly stun Anfield into silence before the end, but there was no doubt as to who the contest belonged to.