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Suarez' World Class Night Papers Over the Cracks

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Luis Suarez may have put on a performance for the ages, but beyond his individual heroics and despite the lopsided final score, Liverpool were far from convincing against Norwich City.

Alex Livesey

Lost in the adulation aimed at Luis Suarez after a four goal night against Norwich made him the only player in Liverpool and Premier League history to score at least three times against the same opponent on three separate occasions, Joe Allen made an at times unconvincing return to the starting lineup—though when it came to unconvincing nights, Allen was hardly alone for Liverpool. Inevitably, though, Allen's return got second billing, even from Allen himself.

"Luis showed why he's one of the best players in the world," said the midfielder. "There are not many teams in the world who would be able to cope with that kind of performance. He was unstoppable. It was fantastic from him individually, and for us to get three points after the disappointment of the defeat to Hull was vital. We were lucky we had the chance to get back out there just a few days later. We all wanted to get back to winning ways and back to performing in the way we know we can."

Few would today question Allen's suggestion Suarez is amongst the best players in the world, and the Uruguayan can make a solid case to being the best player currently plying his trade in the Premier League. And few could argue that Liverpool didn't get back to winning against Norwich—they did, after all, take all three points thanks to a lopsided scoreline care of Suarez' efforts in the final third. Whether it was a vintage performance for Allen and the rest, though, is an uncomfortably open question.

In goal, Simon Mignolet couldn't be faulted on what was a relatively quiet night for the keeper that saw Norwich's attacks frequently break down of their own accord, while further up the pitch Philippe Coutinho showed flashes of the quick-footed magic he has become known for since arriving at the club. Yet ignoring the final score for a moment, there were few beyond them who could be said to have played well, including Allen, who made up a midfield duo with Steven Gerrard that was invisible without the ball.

Norwich may not have scored—or, for much of the night, looked like being able to—but that was more down to Norwich's moves breaking down through misplaced passes and indecisive touches than anything Liverpool did. In particular, that Liverpool often appeared to not even have a midfield when Norwich gained possession was massively concerning. Against a more incisive side or on a night when Suarez isn't one of the three best players in the world, everybody would today be wringing their hands over the club's frailties in their own end.

That Liverpool instead won by four goals shouldn't blind anybody to that fact. It also can't entirely obscure that, pushed forward in order to allow Steven Gerrard to once again hang back in a deep lying role he's clearly unsuited for, Jordan Henderson was abysmal and did nothing to contribute to Liverpool's attack. Meanwhile on the wing, and despite his late goal, Raheem Sterling may have had a worse game than he did against Hull, holding the ball for far too long and repeatedly failing to release his waiting teammates.

Glen Johnson was anonymous. John Flanagan looked like he'd been given a live grenade any time he was passed the ball. Reintroduced to the starting eleven after being given the Hull match off, Daniel Agger was again shaky in the air, beaten easily to the ball by Bradley Johnson for Norwich's only goal of the night. In short, if you took away Luis Suarez' world class performance, the rest of Liverpool's was at best decidedly average—and by Brendan Rodgers' stern demeanour throughout the night, Liverpool's manager knew it.

Calling for changes following a 5-1 victory may seem poor form, but on this occasion it is also justified, and whether Joe Allen gets a second start in a row against West Ham is far from certain. To be fair to Allen, the midfielder didn't have a terrible night, and the right call for Saturday is likely to drop Gerrard and allow either Allen or Henderson to pair Lucas at the base of midfield. But in the real world, "not terrible" may not be enough to keep Allen in the starting eleven when it would mean having to drop Gerrard instead.

Whatever happens to Allen against West Ham on the weekend, though, changes seem necessary. Either that or another four goal night from Luis Suarez that further papers over the growing cracks in what has been an unexpectedly strong start to the season for Liverpool.