When Divock Origi headed Liverpool into a 4-0 lead on Friday night, my friend turned to me in the briefly silenced Murderers pub and said what we were all thinking: “I can’t believe it.”
Before kick-off, another friend (who doesn’t follow football) asked how likely it was for Norwich to snatch a win, so I showed him the betting app on my phone – City were 20/1 against. He told me that must be worth a quid – I responded with a patronising shake of the head.
But we actually looked good. So good that, as Liverpool kept scoring goals – one, two, then three inside half an hour – a cruel sense of injustice reverberated around the pub as Origi made it four. Norwich kept attacking quickly and incisively, though. We were matching them stride for stride, if you forget the number of goals each team had scored.
But what did we expect? If you go to Anfield and don’t park the bus, you’re going to get slaughtered, right?
Well, not exactly.
Bear in mind that last season in the Premier League, Liverpool scored 55 goals at Anfield, conceding just 10. In fact, they conceded just 40 shots on target – they are defensively immense.
Let’s take the eleven teams that were most offensively impotent against them though – not necessarily the sides that ‘parked the bus’ but those sides that registered six shots or fewer throughout the game.
Of those sides, the Reds beat Huddersfield 5-0, West Ham 4-0, Watford 5-0, Newcastle 4-0, Burnley 4-2 (the Clarets had just three shots) and Cardiff 4-1 (just two shots for the Bluebirds).
Their record in total, against sides who registered six shots or fewer, was: played 11, won nine, drew two, scored 33, conceded five.
Meanwhile, Liverpool scored 22 goals against the eight sides who registered more than six shots against them last term – an average of 2.75 goals per game, compared to three goals a game against those with six shots or fewer.
Turns out Johann Cruyff may have known better than Rory from West London after all.
“Morons, utter morons.”
Just to think I bought lunch for this man last week too, can’t wait to show them up at Carrow Road now. pic.twitter.com/6nvoy6moSo
— Jack Reeve (@JackReeveTNC) August 11, 2019
Attack really is the best form of defence.
For the record, Norwich had 12 shots at Anfield on Friday night – only Bournemouth matched that figure last season. City also managed five shots on target – not one visiting team had more than three in the Premier League last term.
(They also restricted Liverpool to fewer than 500 passes – only the fourth time since August 2017 a side has achieved that at Anfield. So, while they struggled inside their own box, City were able to contain the Reds and break up play relatively effectively everywhere else).
As a result, Daniel Farke and his side have been rightly praised by Norwich fans for their style of football on opening night. Of course, we are slightly biased, so if you missed Gary Neville’s comments after the game, this is what he said to Sky Sports:
“Norwich have got their own way and you have to stick to what you’re doing. Otherwise, they [the players] will be thinking, what does this guy want me to do?
“I think managers nowadays, like Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, stick to what they do. They don’t change a lot. They adapt slightly, but more often than not, their principles remain, their values remain, and I think that’s critical.
“Those players want a common message. They don’t want a manager who’s all over the place – ‘play this way one week, then we’re playing against them’, reacting to who the opposition are too much. No, have confidence in how you play and go for it and I think that to me is the best way to go about it.”
As Norwich fans, we’ve seen for ourselves what happens when a manager loses his nerve. City were an exciting, progressive team under Alex Neil until one bad result at Newcastle turned them into a slow, conservative, boring side.
That won’t happen again this year; there’s no appetite for it at Carrow Road. Two years of Chris Hughton and almost a whole season of timid football under Neil have left the Yellow Army more willing to get relegated playing good football than stay up by scraping turgid goalless draws.
This message was conveyed to Farke and his players perfectly at Anfield, where City’s brilliant away fans staked their support for Farkeball loudly and clearly.
Besides, this style of football does garner results in the Premier League, as Wolves, Leicester, West Ham and Watford proved last season. Cardiff tried a more conservative style and were relegated; Fulham abandoned their philosophy in November and were also relegated.
There’s a reason why Sam Allardyce, David Moyes, Alan Pardew et al don’t have jobs anymore – football has moved on. Elite football – the Champions League and Premier League over the last two seasons and the World Cup in 2018, in particular – has shown that progressive, inventive football is the way to win titles.
Norwich – the club and its supporters – believe that playing this way will work for them too. Now they just have to prove it.