What started as hopeful joke among fellow supporters quickly turned into reality at Anfield tonight, where Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick in the first 35 minutes of the match and added another free-kick special in the second half as Liverpool cruised past a helpless Norwich side. On the whole Liverpool were fairly average and only slightly more impressive than at the weekend when they stumbled against Hull, but Suarez carried the night with yet another terrific solo display.
Liverpool 5: Suarez 15', 29', 35', 74', Sterling 88'
Norwich 1: Johnson 83'
Brendan Rodgers opted for three changes from Sunday's loss, with Daniel Agger replacing Kolo Toure at the back, Joe Allen coming in for Lucas, and Philippe Coutinho making the return that Rodgers promised in place of Victor Moses. All changes that made enough sense, with both Allen and Agger in need of minutes, and Coutinho brought in to fill the creative void in Liverpool's attack. The continued lack of Mamadou Sakho--attributed by some on Twitter to quite literal teething problems for his young child--worried, but it was otherwise an as-expected Liverpool starting eleven.
And despite the way things finished it wasn't quite so straightforward in the early going; Norwich were shot out of a cannon to start and pressed forward when they had the chance, while Liverpool looked unnerved in possession and failed to string together more than a couple passes at a time. Anxiety seemed to grow despite Norwich sinking into their own half, with little to suggest that today was destined to be any different than Sunday at the KC Stadium.
Then, Luis Suarez happened. A benign header forward from the midfield by Steven Gerrard bounced through to the Uruguayan, who hesitated slightly before unleashing a 42-yard lob with the outside of his right foot, beating John Ruddy from an absurd distance for the second time in as many years and giving Liverpool the 1-0 lead. Fifteen minutes later he had another, gifted by some lazy Norwich defending on a Liverpool corner, needing only to curl his left leg around Philippe Coutinho's low delivery to beat Ruddy.
Things got really silly on 35 minutes, when Suarez dribbled, bundled, and bounced his way through a number of Norwich defenders to get his third. The effort almost seemed to embarrass the striker, who made it eleven goals in four matches against every Liverpool supporter's favorite opponent in the 75th minute with a curling free-kick. Suarez turned provider for the fifth, flicking a sharp cross from the near side into the path of Raheem Sterling, who expertly finished with his left to finish the evening's scoring after Liverpool had conceded the requisite goal from a cross five minutes earlier.
There's not really much to say about Luis Suarez that hasn't been already, so I'll just add that it's worth watching three of the four goals until your eyes burst, and then listen to them until your ears fall off. He was that good tonight, looking as though he was capable of doing anything he wanted and, on four occasions (five if we count his assist), achieving it. He was the difference for Liverpool on a night when little else impressed, and what did impress paled in comparison.
Aside from him--as though there can be discussion of the match aside from him--Liverpool were marginally better in the first half than they were against Hull and improved in the second, which tends to be the case when you're up by three goals. I'm not necessarily displeased or worried, but between the relative lack of spark in the side outside of Suarez and Brendan Rodgers carrying a face like thunder, it was clear that not everything in Liverpool's universe was operating at the level of their striker.
From back to front, and quickly, it was a mixed bag; Simon Mignolet was typically impressive when called upon, neither of Martin Skrtel nor Daniel Agger overwhelmed, Glen Johnson was improved from the weekend (though it'd have been hard not to), Jon Flanagan was about what we've come to expect, Joe Allen rebounded nicely, Steven Gerrard was average, Jordan Henderson made a case for getting dropped against West Ham, Philippe Coutinho sparkled at times and fizzled out at others, Raheem Sterling improved as the match went on, and Luis Alberto proved mighty impressive after replacing Henderson. Oh, and Iago Aspas came on so Suarez could get a standing ovation.
There seems to be reason enough for a mild bit of hand-wringing given the lack of overall improvements, but in the wake of the performance from Suarez, I think that can rest for another day. Yes, Liverpool need to be much better throughout the rest of the squad, and without Suarez today would have possibly been a very different story. But today they had Luis Suarez, and today they won 5-1. That's a result--and a performance--worth celebrating.