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A welcome ‘bunfight’ up top for a Liverpool side in glass half full mode

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Norwich City are almost always a welcoming sight. A team that was a regular top-flight presence during my childhood, there is something reassuring about them blipping onto our radar.

An entity that tries to preach football in an expansive manner only to spectacularly play into our hands, Daniel Farke’s side are unable to take a pragmatic approach and it is the most magnificent of flaws for a newly-promoted team.

Two years ago, we began the 2019/20 season defeating Norwich by a margin of three goals. Via the outbreak of a global pandemic that continues to rumble on, we went on to win the Premier League title.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 14, 2021: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Norwich City FC and Liverpool FC at Carrow Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There is nothing wrong with daring to believe that lightning can strike twice; Carrow Road offered plenty of soothing sights and positive signs, be it Alisson pawing away danger, in the style of an imposing bear taking a swipe at a beehive while in search of honey, or Mohamed Salah adding a new layer of selflessness to his repertoire.

So much more was on offer on Saturday, too. Virgil van Dijk’s presence in the starting lineup was both surprising and unsurprising, quickly clicking back into an effortless partnership with Joel Matip.

Trent Alexander-Arnold displayed the type of endeavour that only his appreciative home audience will ever fully embrace, while Kostas Tsimikas balanced wonderful attacking intent with occasionally harum-scarum defending.

Tsimikas has been handed a huge responsibility in the absence of Andy Robertson, and while he was marvellous on the front foot, he needs to work on his concentration in defence.

In midfield, James Milner gloriously Milnered the living daylights out of the game, inclusive of giving Tsimikas a clip around the back of the head after one of his aberrations in giving possession away in his own half. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played all the right percentages and both he and Milner superbly orbited the pivot of Naby Keita, who put in a promising performance that represented a significant step forward.

The next trick for Keita is to ensure that he follows this step forward with a cluster of further steps forward. Now is the time to move away from the usual response of a subsequent step back and another one to the side before sitting out the next six weeks.

The No. 8 is a wonderful footballer, a man who is unlike any other midfielder we possess. A natural heir to Gini Wijnaldum, yet a player who is nothing like the Netherlands international who is now a teammate of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi in Paris.

A sharp, collective intake of breath was audible when it became clear that we were to be taking to the Carrow Road pitch with a midfield trio of Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 14, 2021: Liverpool's Diogo Jota (L) celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Norwich City FC and Liverpool FC at Carrow Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Milner is a senior citizen now, while Oxlade-Chamberlain is widely viewed as having taken up the old Adam Lallana role of being the piece of squad furniture who won’t be expected to see much football this season and whose inclusion in any starting lineup will bet met with indifference at best, and anxiety at worst.

When you add the frustrating enigma of Keita to the mix, on paper this was a midfield of misfits, yet this is luckily a game that is played out on grass instead and they each passed the test excellently.

In the forward line, it was Roberto Firmino who missed out on the starting role, Diogo Jota getting the nod instead alongside Salah and Sadio Mane.

Jota was probably the least effective yet he got the all-important opening goal, a gauntlet thrown at the feet of Firmino, who promptly entered the fray where he picked it up and skimmed it back towards the Portuguese international.

With Salah gloriously in the mood for fine football and Mane putting in a solid shift, providing everyone stays fully fit the bunfight for a place in the front-three will be one of the highlights of the new season.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 14, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp waves to supporters after the FA Premier League match between Norwich City FC and Liverpool FC at Carrow Road. Liverpool won 3-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A winning start after a familiar summer of contract renewals combined with minimal transfer activity, in which those supporters with their glass half full rode into combat against those whose glass is half empty. I instead reclined with a glass of wine and a plate of cheese, a bit like how Oddball does in Kelly’s Heroes when his tank has broken down on the periphery of a battle strewn Clermont until an outbreak of positivity brings him back into play.

It really is the finest war movie ever and Jurgen Klopp can end the season as Clint Eastwood.

Arguably a subtly stronger squad than the one we had a year ago, Ibrahima Konate’s arrival apart, it has all been about shifting the deckchairs, waiting for the walking wounded to return to full fitness and watching younger players mature that little bit more.

The experiences of 2020/21 will be just as important as the experiences of 2019/20 to this collective as Liverpool plough through the next 37 Premier League games in pursuit of reclaiming the title. They will attempt to do so having been written off by many.

Klopp and his team will be in glass half full mode. The rest of the Premier League ought to beware.


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