Liverpool 5-2 Norwich City
FA Cup 4th Round, Anfield
January 28, 2024
Goals: Jones 16′, Nunez 28′, Jota 53′, Van Dijk 63′, Gravenberch 90+5′; Gibson 22′, Sainz 69′
Klopp and the start of a farewell tour
Unsurprisingly, Klopp was the big pre-game focus after his decision to resign at the end of the campaign, and while he had earlier asked not to have to answer questions about it before matches, it was inevitable he’d have to do so before the first game after his decision became public.
There’s some poignancy too, perhaps, in that game being against one of his best friends in David Wagner, now Norwich boss.
While the boss insisted there was nothing different from himself in terms of preparation or emotions, he understood that might not be the case for the fans, still reeling from the news a day earlier.
Predictably, there were big songs right from kick-off for the boss, support from the crowd for his service rather than upset at his impending exit, and as Klopp would have wanted, it was full focus and support on the match and the task at hand: getting through to the FA Cup fifth round.
Full time, though, provided the most emotional moments as all four sides of Anfield serenaded Klopp with a long rendition of ‘I’m so glad’ right until the boss left the pitch.
McConnell and Bradley the latest to impress from academy
A fourth senior appearance for Liverpool was a significant one for James McConnell: the first time the teenager had started a game and by far his longest time on a pitch so far, having only made cameos beforehand with a 15-minute showing his previous best in that regard.
And it could hardly have started much better: just a quarter of an hour in he fizzed a lovely curling ball to the far post, over the defender’s head and right onto Curtis Jones‘ head, the resulting nod giving the Reds the lead and McConnell a first assist.
In terms of general midfield play he was cool and regularly able to make the right pass, keeping tempo up and he tea on the front foot. Perhaps he should have been booked and late cramp is a disappointment of course.
It’s no wonder Klopp later assessed his game as “super.”
As far as youngsters go though, McConnell was upstaged by Conor Bradley, who delivered a brilliant showing from right-back.
He has gone from strength to strength over his run in the team recently and here assisted Darwin Nunez‘s goal, should have had another for Cody Gakpo a few minutes later, did get one for Gravenberch near the end and deservedly picked up the Man of the Match award.
Returning faces at last
Since October, the left-back spot has been a rotating cast of sticking plasters, making do and…well, in truth, sensational performances. Andy Robertson‘s initial injury gave Reds fans cause for concern, but Kostas Tsimikas had a few good outings – until picking up an injury of his own.
And so Joe Gomez has been filling in, brilliantly for the most part, but as we head back into a busy part of the season with massive matches ahead, it’s important to have both options and quality available once more.
As such, Robertson’s first game back is an important milestone, off the bench for just over half an hour here and making plenty of his trademark overlapping runs.
It’s less time out for the latter two, both injured at the start of the year, but perhaps the enforced month or so on the sidelines actually came at a great time: not the very most taxing of fixtures, a slight break in between too to reduce the number they missed.
Forward line form
AFCON or not, we have no Mohamed Salah for now as he has a hamstring injury, so it’s vital the other attackers step up and contribute.
Luis Diaz has been hit and miss but works non-stop and is capable of world class moments, so is almost a non-negotiable anyway, but for the other three it was an important time to make their own case.
Safe to say Diogo Jota has been doing that recently, with his touch and sharpness really looking back after a long period of struggles with both following injuries.
Another goal here was brilliantly taken, while he was inventive and mobile throughout, the combination of which probably makes him the must-start attacker right now.
The Dutchman is missing his touch, lacking in incision and making poor decisions. He badly needs a goal and a reset and even with Salah out, looks clearly the sub option for matches of real meaning.
FA Cup draw and Chelsea double bill
As such, we re-emerged for the second 45 knowing Watford or Southampton were the next step, a real path through to the quarter-finals given it would be back-to-back Championship opponents if we saw out the victory.
That match finished 1-1 incidentally, therefore, requiring a replay.
But there are no such concerns for the Reds, safely through and continuing their triple assault on cups – but it’s attention back to the Premier League next, where we hold a five-point lead over Man City, Arsenal and Aston Villa. It’s only City who matter though, let’s be honest – and they have a game in hand.
We need to beat Chelsea for so many reasons: because we don’t really like them, because we need the points, because we drew at the Bridge on the opening day and because it’ll put them in a negative frame of mind for Wembley.
But all that is secondary to simply keeping the wins going, keeping the points adding up, keeping our name on top of the table.
Even after this week’s shock, 2023/24 could yet end up being one of the most memorable seasons of all.