Liverpool’s soft centre was again evident as they got out of jail at struggling Norwich in a bizarre 5-4 victory on Saturday.
It was the first time this season that Liverpool had managed to win a game after conceding from a corner, and that, along with the impact of Adam Lallana from the bench and Liverpool’s sheer determination to grab the points will have Jurgen Klopp, who admitted his men were “lucky”, smiling. But in truth Lallana’s dramatic bouncing finish should only paper over the cracks for Klopp at Anfield, because Liverpool were far from impressive.
“It was an unbelievable game. I think we are the deserved winners, but I’m not happy,” Klopp told BT Sport.
“We had problems. I don’t know what it (the game) was.”
In fairness to Klopp his comments were a pretty good synopsis of the encounter, because it was a game of little quality, numerous mistakes and unbelievably nine goals from just 12 shots on target.
After recent away defeats to Watford and West Ham it should have been no surprise that Klopp’s men put in another underwhelming display and they did exactly that for long spells, bar a couple of moments of attacking magic. Forget the 5-4 scoreline, this was not a Liverpool performance to spur ideas of a top-four finish – Liverpool were ordinary against a Norwich side who hadn’t scored three goals in a game since their September win over Bournemouth.
The hosts should have taken a share of the spoils and taken advantage of Liverpool’s soft centre but the visitors just edged it in a nine-goal thriller.
Liverpool looked to be in a pretty deep hole when Norwich went 3-1 up and Klopp, who looked as animated as ever on the touchline, can hardly take comfort from a hollow three points.
Liverpool were exposed again from a corner when Robbie Brady’s deep flag kick was headed back into the danger zone, and although Liverpool got it clear to the edge of the box, it was Norwich who capitalised on the second phase with Dieumerci Mbokani scoring from inside the six-yard box with a clever backheel.
“It’s rubbish what we are doing from set-pieces, but we have to solve it,” said Klopp afterwards.
It was the eighth goal conceded from corners this season – the highest total in the Premier League. The lack of a dominant presence inside the six-yard box will surely be one of the areas Klopp is looking to address in January and if not in the summer, because it looked like costing Liverpool victory until the impressive Lallana popped up late on.
Sebastian Bassong’s low driven equaliser for 4-4 from a Hail Mary-like ball forward again exposed Liverpool’s weakness at centre-back as Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho failed to head away from the edge of the box – allowing Bassong to ram home.
Meanwhile, Alberto Moreno’s defensive vulnerability was again evident as he inexplicably fouled Steven Naismith twice before the referee pointed to the penalty spot. It was a mistake which could have cost the visitors dearly, but for all Moreno’s bad press for his defensive work he does offer width and pace going forward and was involved in Firmino’s opening goal.
Moreno was quickly forward to hug the touchline before whipping in a neat pass to James Milner, who put in Firmino to open the scoring. It was a 13-pass move and things were looking bright and had Milner converted a one-on-one soon after, Klopp’s men may have won comfortably – but that was not to be the story of the game.
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There’s no doubt Klopp will be thinking long and hard about Moreno, but for all his attacking strengths, he may well find his poor positioning and concentration might cost him his future at Anfield.
Norwich signing Naismith’s incisive movement caused him all kinds of problems, especially in the first half when he played a one-two out on the right wing before timing his run into the box and firing into the far corner past Simon Mignolet.
If Moreno’s defensive nous was missing, so was Klopp’s famous gegenpressing tactic. The high-pressing game, which marked Klopp’s time at Dortmund, has been employed somewhat sporadically by Klopp at Anfield and there was no evidence of it at Carrow Road.
Whether Klopp had identified Norwich as a side that Liverpool could afford to sit off is a possibility, but Liverpool never closed down their opponents from the first whistle.
But for all those negative points, Klopp will have been pleased with the intelligent movement and finishing of Firmino and the impression of Lallana from the bench.
Firmino scored twice with a couple of neat finishes and looked lively throughout, but its doubtful whether his long-term future at Liverpool is as a false No. 9. He looks a much more natural second striker, playing in the hole behind the striker, but with Alex Teixeira looking like he might be arriving from Shakhtar Donetsk, his future and that of Lallana might be in doubt.
Not that Lallana let that affect him, because he was brilliant in a 30-minute cameo – setting up Firmino for his second goal with a fine ball before slamming in the late winner. Liverpool may have bid £24.5million for the Brazilian Teixeira, but the former Saints man had the bit between his teeth.
Forget another attacking midfielder, Klopp has numerous other areas he can strengthen before he adds another playmaker to the ranks.
The victory takes Klopp’s points tally to 1.46 per game from his 15 matches in charge, still some short of sacked former boss Brendan Rodgers’ 1.66 tally during his 160 matches in charge.
But this is Klopp; the fans and the players, who mobbed the German at the full-time whistle, are still firmly with the former Dortmund man, but he must address their soft centre if they are to make progress this season.