Welcome back to the Premier League, Norwich City.
The script wasn’t supposed to involve being on the receiving end of a 4-0 deficit. But then, that’s the quality possessed by a side who are European Champions. They can break defensive shapes and manipulate sides into losing their solidity.
Many would have lost their heart. Self-doubt would have crept in and consolidation would have become the primary objective.
Not for Norwich City. Not for Daniel Farke.
Defensively, it was naive in that opening period, particularly physically. Operating against players who possess the intellect and technical superiority of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi was always going to pose an intriguing and enduring defensive test.
Norwich’s philosophy isn’t about containment and restraint but rather about being impactful with the ball and stretching the pitch to allow them to retain possession. Ensuring they didn’t alter from this approach was pivotal, especially when tested to the maximum up to half time.
This division has an unforgiving nature; one City encountered as they attempted to boldly assert themselves. Liverpool press in numbers, strangling opponents in high areas of the pitch and being energetic in their transition. Those turnovers are then maximised as an opportunity to overload in the final third and allow their attacking players to combine in dangerous areas.
Delving into the statistics of the evening dispels the narrative some have looked to take from the scoreline.
The xG metric proves Norwich deserved to lose although perhaps not at the margin they did. Liverpool recorded 1.69 to better the Canaries’ 0.78 reading. Statistically, losing the game wasn’t a surprise, but it does create a different discourse around how this game unfolded.
In essence, Liverpool’s chances they created, in terms of quality, was, on average, enough for that many goals (1.69). Scoring four merely illustrates the ruthlessness of their chance conversion. So, perhaps a defensively naive performance from the visitors but clinical finishing perhaps creates the idea of a thrashing. That wasn’t that case.
Where Norwich did excel was the offensive implementation of their game.
Teemu Pukki was never going to engage in the physical battles with Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez but instead, it would be about the Finn’s ability to move off the shoulder and locate space beyond the defensive line of the hosts. His success comes from making that run into the space between the defender and the full-back.
His movement is relentless, but he’s also a pivotal cog in the Canaries’ philosophical approach because these movements create pockets of space in front of the opponent’s defence for offensive midfielders to operate in while forcing the backline to retreat into the space behind – thus stretching the area for City to attack in.
But teams do arrive at Anfield with genuine fear in their eyes.
Norwich have experienced that mentality in this division before, and they got relegated. Being defensively astute is a key component of a successful side – that is needless to say – but it only works if you have that equilibrium between the top end of the pitch. Being defensively robust alone isn’t enough to win games.
Equally, that sentiment can be flipped, but last night the offensive passages of play were threatening throughout the game. City had more shots than any opponent at Anfield in the last year, and Pukki himself proved a nuisance to a £75million defender.
Potency at the top end and having a defined style has proven successful for Bournemouth, who balanced risk and reward by opting to duel with teams and ensuring their approach never wavered. They got beat, sometimes heavily, but still retained faith in the style that took them to the Premier League.
Learning lessons from Anfield, especially around the naïve defending, is key. It is also fixable.
Also, how Norwich responded to the adversity of last night’s first half was to set the tone of the mood music for what’s to come. And what they delivered in the second period was an adept, balanced and brave performance that many have become accustomed to after the last campaign.
Overarching all of that optimism, perplexing in a way given the scoreline, should be a feeling of pride.
In 2016, this was a club full of unrest. Supporters didn’t recognise the club they supported, and it appeared those in power positions didn’t possess answers to rebuild a football club that was sleepwalking into mediocrity.
Then came step change. That wasn’t roundly accepted to begin with but eventually, every notion was broken, every doubter silenced and the colours painted back into the heart of the City.
Success is relative. Nobody becomes a City supporter for the glory of dominating Europe’s elite and winning domestic trophies. Instead, it’s about connection and community. When supporters talk of winning the second half, that merely displays the adoration and optimism present within the Canary Nation right now.
Supporting this club is about supporting its values.
Four academy graduates, five players under the age of 22 and a genuine belief that what’s to come is more significant than what’s been before. Apathy once threatened to ruin a love affair of a lifetime for many fans but now the bond is more prevalent than ever. Painting the Premier League with a splash of yellow and green is going to leave a stain, on and off the pitch.
What we have now is a club that is comfortable in its own clothes, it’s personality oozes from within and, morally, it aligns with the city it represents.
The established view is that Norwich shouldn’t survive. They don’t have deep enough pockets and they don’t possess experience but ‘the normal’ is continuously challenged in these quarters. Survival isn’t the big picture, sustainability and togetherness are. Should City succumb to the drop, then they rebuild and fight again.
Few predicted they would even reach this point. To paraphrase Delia, ‘write them off at your peril’.
The offensive performance at Anfield proves Norwich can create opportunities and from here it’ll be all about adaptability and mentality. Tick those boxes and City have the credentials to survive.
Liverpool beat nine opponents by scoring four or more goals last season. Arsenal find themselves on that list and go beyond the Premier League and so do Barcelona. Optimism should be taken from their ability to respond, and these aren’t the fixtures that will define City’s Premier League status.
Ten wins are usually enough to guarantee safety. Providing Norwich refuse to alter, then the message from most will be ‘bring it on’.