Norwich will not welcome the shadow of history conjured up by this resounding defeat; Liverpool, though, will greet it as a long-lost ally. Two seasons ago Jürgen Klopp’s side beat the same opponents 4-1 at Anfield on the opening weekend and, by the campaign’s conclusion, the teams had finished at opposite ends of the table by dizzying margins. Another three-goal win, this time on Norwich’s turf, set a tone that suggests Liverpool mean business in their efforts to regain the title they relinquished so glaringly last term.
Once Diogo Jota had put them ahead in the 26th minute there were rarely any doubts about the points’ destination. Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, the latter with a brilliant finish, completed the job and they could have added more. While Daniel Farke will not beat himself up about this outcome, there was a jarring difference between Norwich’s smooth interchanges in midfield and the scratchiness that marked their defensive work.
After the ignominy of finishing bottom by 13 points in 2019-20, the Norwich sporting director, Stuart Webber, admitted he had sent Farke “into war without a gun”. This time around they went to battle without their former star turn, Emi Buendía, who departed for Aston Villa in June. The wisdom locally, though, is that Norwich have accrued enough depth to have a proper shot at things now. Three of their summer signings started here: much is anticipated in particular of Buendía’s replacement, the Kosovo winger Milot Rashica.
For Liverpool, familiarity bred promise. The sight of a fit-again Virgil van Dijk at the heart of their defence, playing his first competitive football in 10 months, suggested they may be placed to bridge a gap of their own: the chasm that has emerged between Manchester City and the rest. Joël Matip, restored to health for the first time since January, returned alongside him.
Given the barnstorming starts produced by their fellow new arrivals, Brentford and Watford, Farke’s side had a tough act to follow. There was no lack of enthusiasm among Norwich’s support, who swirled yellow and green flags while roaring their team on to the pitch. They received early encouragement from two left-sided forays from the speedy Rashica, although Tim Krul was the first goalkeeper to be exercised. Jota’s looping header in the 10th minute was centrally placed but still demanded a smart tip over.
Krul was then required to pat down Salah’s angled strike after a cutback from Trent Alexander-Arnold. Liverpool had established a pattern of broad dominance, disrupted by instances of dizzying buildup play from the hosts. One such move saw Todd Cantwell, a gem Norwich have retained, send Teemu Pukki away down the right. Rashica screamed for a pass but the striker acted on instinct, going for goal and forcing Alisson to parry. Cantwell, an exuberant presence, then tried to chip the Liverpool goalkeeper from the right touchline.
Then came the sting. Salah miscontrolled a clipped Alexander-Arnold cross but applied enough purchase to wrongfoot Ben Gibson and play Jota in. The forward could hardly miss, although Krul was frustrated to see the finish put through his legs.
The timing was cruel given Norwich had begun to compete on equal terms. They would have gone in two down had Pierre Lees-Melou, another debutant, not cleared Matip’s effort from near the line after Salah’s shot was charged down.
Norwich won a corner straight from the restart but then had to thank Max Aarons, their right-back, for a timely block when Sadio Mané looked to convert Alexander-Arnold’s latest delivery. Shortly before the hour Lees-Melou snatched at a difficult volley inside the area. Neither side was exactly bashing at the door and it meant Norwich, still easy on the eye in the middle third, retained a foothold for now.
Firmino soon took it away. Krul had just saved a raking drive from Konstantinos Tsimikas, who deputised competently for the injured Andy Robertson, when the recently introduced Brazilian led a break down the left. There was again an element of fortune when Mané, found by Firmino, saw his shot strike Grant Hanley and fall into Salah’s path. The Egyptian took the obvious option, squaring left for the substitute to score from eight yards.
Now Liverpool were cruising and it was Salah who added the party piece with 16 minutes remaining. Gibson could only flick Tsimikas’s corner to the edge of the area and Salah, signalling what would follow with an ominous shift on to his left foot, whipped a vicious effort that beat Krul all ends up.
A late double save from Alisson, who superbly denied Gibson and Hanley, ensured Norwich walked off with little consolation.