Norwich City 1 Holt 60'
From the moment the teamsheet was released, with eight attacking players plus Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel set to run out at Anfield against Premier League newcomers Norwich City, the match seemed fated to go one of two ways. Norwich was always likely to get their share of chances on the counter—and perhaps even a couple of goals from it—but if things had gone according to Kenny Dalglish's plan it wouldn't have much mattered with all the attacking firepower Liverpool sent onto the pitch. But of course that would have meant Liverpool figuring out how to finish, and aside from the debacle against Tottenham in September when absolutely everything that could go wrong did, a lack of clinical finishing had been by far Liverpool's biggest problem in the early going.
Nobody, then, will point to Norwich as the match when Liverpool's attackers remembered where the back of the net was, as aside from a deflected goal by Craig Bellamy to end the first half it would be more of the same for the home side: More possession, more slick passing, more chances, and more missed chances.
Liverpool started out in the increasingly familiar 4231/4222 hybrid, Stewart Downing and Craig Bellamy on the flanks with Kuyt just off Suarez in attack and Steven Gerrard nominally anchoring midfield alongside Charlie Adam. The reds lacked much of a midfield base from the opening, a massive gulf between defence and midfield forming early and only getting worse as the match progressed and the club failed to capitalise on its chances, yet that hardly would have mattered against a Norwich side that seemed overmatched in the early going if they had only been able to finish.
In the opening minutes, Skrtel redirected an Adam corner off the crossbar. Then Suarez beat his man with a gorgeous turn only to ruin the move with a not so gorgeous miss. Minutes later, Suarez would break clear on Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy again, only for the keeper to pull off the first of a handful of fantastic saves that added to Liverpool's woes in front of goal: When you're having trouble finding the back of the net, the last thing you need is a goalkeeper having the match of his life stopping any shots you do manage to put on target. It signalled the start of an increasingly frustrating half for Suarez, too, who could have easily had two or three goals on another day and also had to deal with an official in Peter Walton who seemed to have his mind set on punishing the Liverpool striker after a week of talk from Alex Ferguson and Manchester United about the player's tendency to go down easily.
Suarez might have a tendency to embellish at times, but there were at least a half dozen incidents in the first half that would have seen fouls called had they been against any other player in the Premier League. Walton may not have been the cause of Liverpool's struggles in front of goal, and he certainly wasn't why the club drew the sort of match it needs to win if it hopes to secure a Champions League berth, but that doesn't excuse an official who appeared set on satisfying an incensed press instead of trying to call a match fairly.
When Bellamy did score his deflected goal, though, none of that seemed to matter: The poor officiating, the struggles at finishing, or the ever-widening gap between defence and midfield that had begun to make it seem as though it was only a matter of time before Norwich capitalised on the break. Liverpool would still need to sort out their midfield to assist an at times shaky defence or sort out their finishing in front of goal in the second half for all three points to seem anything like secure, but after a frustrating forty-five minutes all that really mattered was the lead.
The second, however, would see more of the same: More Liverpool futility in and around the eighteen yard box to go along with a defence that looked ripe for Norwich to tear apart on the break. And in the end they would do just that, with Grant Holt beating a tangle of Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, and Glen Johnson to a cross and heading home the equaliser off a quick Norwich break. The immediate fault for the goal lies with Reina, who should have managed a more authoritative clearance effort, but the entire break came about because of Liverpool's disorganised midfield and that massive gap between it and the defence, with Charlie Adam particularly culpable after he was caught in possession.
Adam had time on the ball and an open man nearby in Luis Suarez, but instead of laying it off he took a needless extra touch, allowing Norwich to steal the ball away. With both Gerrard and Adam deep in the Norwich end, a quick pass to Anthony Pilkington sent Norwich charging at an isolated Liverpool defence once again, leading to the telling cross and the ensuing comedy pileup of Liverpool's defenders and goalkeeper as the equaliser skipped into the goal.
With Liverpool seeming shocked by the leveler in a game they should really have been up four or five in, they then began to fall apart, loosing even that toothless fluidity they had previously had in possession and allowing Norwich multiple chances to take the lead. Things became even more bleak for the home side as Steven Gerrard began to visibly tire, while Charlie Adam continued to amble back defensively as he had been doing from early in the first half, at times leading to the rather bizarre sight of Craig Bellamy straining to drop behind Liverpool's two increasingly immobile central midfielders to help cover the back four when Norwich attacked.
Dalglish would try to change things up by introducing Jordan Henderson with just over twenty minutes remaining, likely choosing to replace Craig Bellamy because of the role he played in the mid-week friendly against Rangers. Without Bellamy's energy, however, Liverpool only appeared to become more disjointed until Andy Carroll came on late for a misfiring Stuart Downing. A last throw of the dice meant Daniel Agger for Dirk Kuyt on ninety minutes, with a change to three at the back coming as a result.
The four final minutes of injury time would encapsulate Liverpool's frustrating day in attack, with Carroll working space for a free header that he then sent just wide of the net before Norwich's keeper would once again pull off a brilliant save of a Suarez shot seconds before Peter Walton signaled the end of the match. And so, in the end, it was a depressingly familiar result in front of goal with the addition of an increasingly frustrating incoherency in midfield while Liverpool's story of the season remains largely the same: Great in possession much of the time but soft in defence and unable to finish.
Perhaps on another day Liverpool would have racked up five goals. Certainly looking at the teamsheet before hand that's what every fan would have hoped. With this Liverpool side, however, that seems to have become a somewhat familiar refrain.