Well that was fun. Two early goals to the good, two sloppy goals to the bad, three injuries, 120+ minutes logged for a handful of regulars in the starting eleven, and, despite all the negativity, a positive result. A performance that was, at times, very good clouded by concerns about the fitness of Kolo Toure, Joe Allen, and Aly Cissokho, and a worrying reminder of the lack of depth in this Liverpool squad. Oh, and did anyone mention that Manchester United are coming to Anfield on Sunday? There's that.
Liverpool 4: Sterling 4', Sturridge 29', 105'+4', Henderson 110'
Notts County 2: Arquin 62', Coombes 84'
It started about as we expected (though the strength of the lineup was a little surprising), with Liverpool dominating from the outset; a few Notts County forays forward proved fruitless, with only a free-kick saved comfortably by Simon Mignolet to show for their first-half efforts. It was all about Liverpool going forward, retaining possession, and doing it over again. The visitors forced the issue physically, but quality told early as Raheem Sterling opened the scoring within five minutes after a mazy run freed him in front of goal to slam a shot through Bartosz Bialkowski.
There wasn't much for Liverpool to do other than play out the narrative from there, though they suffered from a bit of laziness in possession and, with a little help from a passive opposition, didn't appear to be forcing the issue to put the match to rest early. Some clever combination play in the middle of the park led to Steven Gerrard sliding in a lovely ball to Daniel Sturridge on 29 minutes, though, and the on-form striker controlled well and hit an unstoppable left-footed drive into the far side, putting Liverpool 2-0 up and on their way.
Aside from the moments when concentration seemed to wander, the only lowlight in the opening half came from two more strikes against the woodwork and the injury to Cissokho; a clean tackle saw the newly-signed fullback fall awkwardly and roll over on his ankle, and while he initially tried to hobble it off, it was quickly clear that his full debut would last all of ten minutes. Glen Johnson shifted to left-back, Andre Wisdom to the right, and Daniel Agger was introduced after he'd looked to have the night off.
Liverpool were more subdued to start the second, though Notts County were not necessarily on top when they clawed one back. It was a familiar sight--Liverpool lackadaisical in their marking of set pieces, and a determined and physical opposition forward making it look all too easy to head home. Yoann Arquin was free to bring the guests within a goal, rising highest on the second ball (slightly offside, it should be noted) above a sleepy Andre Wisdom, and all of a sudden it was Northampton Town 2.0.
The injury worries worsened shortly after Arquin's goal, as Joe Allen--who had been good if unspectacular--picked up a hamstring injury and had to be replaced by Jordan Henderson. That left Brendan Rodgers only one more substitution, and around five players who could have arguably used some time on the bench. The manager opted to bring on Philippe Coutinho with his third and final change, leaving Sturridge and Gerrard destined for what would turn out to be close to another hour on the pitch.
That they were forced to play an extra thirty minutes was due to more poor defending and some good work by the visitors, as Adam Coombes slotted in a cross that found its way through a disorganized Liverpool defense. Again it was Wisdom who found himself in the firing line, as he'd abandoned Coombes to track a runner in the middle and left Coombes alone to level the tie.
Liverpool had a late chance before extra time, which kicked off in the worst manner imaginable as Kolo Toure was stretchered off with a groin injury. Down to ten men, Liverpool somehow found a way, breaking through Coutinho to Sturridge to retake the lead just before the interval, and finally killing it off with an impressive solo run and finish by Henderson in the 110th minute.
I am, against all odds, not terribly panicked. I am worried--about the injured, about the lack of depth, about the impending visit of the reigning league champions--but not setting anything on fire just yet. Tomorrow might prove to be the tipping point, with more complete checks due on Toure, Cissokho, and Allen, but right now I'm more focused on what Liverpool need to do in the face of adversity.
The easy, shouty solution is to buy somebody, or more accurately, a number of somebodies. Send angry tweets to John Henry. Send angry emails to John Henry. Send angry thought waves to John Henry. Etc. That is, of course, an entirely valid solution and something that needs to happen, but not in a panicked state. Depth is needed, buckets of cash scattered across Europe for someone with a name is not. Today highlighted the need for additions, and United's visit on Sunday sent it into Threat Level: Midnight, but we don't know anything new after tonight.
They also need to continue to enhance the mentality that's seen them to narrow early season victories over Stoke and Aston Villa. Tonight was a lower level of competition and other convenient excuses, but their second half wobbles are far too familiar, and it's not nearly job done when it comes to the approach Liverpool apply on a more consistent basis. On opening day they had Asmir Begovic to blame, but at Villa they eased off in the final ten minutes of the first half and were unrecognizable at times in the second, and tonight they again found themselves in a far nervier spot than they ought to have been. The timing needs work.
And yet they still found a way, which mostly got lost in the injuries and the it's Notts County's. They took longer than we'd have liked and used up a bit too much energy and fitness, but they got the win they needed. Daniel Sturridge is on tremendous form. Jordan Henderson takes what he wants. Raheem Sterling's workrate didn't waver despite a number of changing responsibilities. Lucas, Jose Enrique, and Iago Aspas are rested. The footbal--when it was focused--was delightful. Silver linings, people. Let's work together.
It's bound to be a stressful week with the transfer window closing, United arriving, and some serious injury concerns, but three wins in three--the latest one at a cost, admittedly--doesn't signal the apocalypse just yet.