Liverpool v Norwich usually guarantees goals, but their game in 2016 was ludicrous even by their standards. You can see the roots of them now, then…
In a few years, when Jurgen Klopp leaves Liverpool and the great history of his time at Anfield is written, there probably won’t be much space for a win against a team on their way to relegation, in a season when Liverpool finished eighth.
And probably with good reason. After all, at some point in the coming weeks he will become the first Liverpool manager to win the title in 30 years, and the first to win both the title and the European Cup since Joe Fagan in 1984. On that path from mediocrity to the best team in the world, there have been innumerable dramatic games, big wins, heroic comebacks, many of which carried genuine, historic meaning.
But for entertainment, a complete lack of logic and absolute chaos, surely nothing will beat their 5-4 victory over Norwich City in January 2016. This was a game with a 92nd minute equaliser and a 95th minute winner, a scoring sequence that went 0-1, 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, 3-2, 3-3, 3-4, 4-4 then 4-5, some calamitous mistakes, terrific finishing and ending with Klopp obliterating his glasses in the post-goal, injury-time bundle.
There is something about Liverpool v Norwich. When they meet, goals ensue. They have played each other 17 times in the Premier League, games that have produced 68 goals, at an average of four per game. For fixtures that have been played ten times or more, that’s a Premier League record, and even if the majority of those goals have been scored by Liverpool (50, in fact), you can usually count on this one.
But even by their standards, this was an outlier. All of Liverpool’s scorers that day – Roberto Firmino, James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana – are all still at the club and key cogs in the current winning machine, but the rest of the side is unrecognisable. Nathaniel Clyne was at right-back, Alberto Moreno on the left, Kolo Toure and Mamhadou Sakho in the middle, Lucas and Emre Can in midfield and – get this – Jordon Ibe on the wing. Christian Benteke came off the bench, as did Steven Caulker. Of course Steven Caulker played for Liverpool: who doesn’t remember that Steve Caulker played for Liverpool?
This was a game that resembled the “heavy metal football” that Klopp once described his Borussia Dortmund team as playing. Apparently he later regretted that quote, but you could certainly see it in this game, right down to Klopp rushing into the mosh pit after Lallana bounced in that winner and tore away, removing his shirt. Who among us hasn’t embraced a screaming, topless man in a moment of euphoria? And as has happened to any bespectacled gig-goer at least once over the years, Klopp lost his glasses, the culprit on close inspection of the footage appearing to be a rogue Benteke fist. Completely accidental though, he’s not that sort of celebrator. Klopp emerged a few days later with some new specs that he said “made him look like a serial killer.”
“It was wild, spectacular football,” said Klopp after the game, squinting through his unaided eyes. “At the end if you win 5-4 it’s a funny story, but it’s not that funny. We have to solve it.”
There was plenty to solve back then. So dominant are Liverpool now that you almost forget that they really weren’t that good, not too long ago. In the lead-up to this game they had lost to Watford – the infamous Adam Bogdan game – lost to West Ham, lost to Manchester United and drew a similarly slapstick game against Arsenal 3-3. In the weeks after it they lost at home to Stoke in the League Cup (though they won the tie on penalties), lost to Leicester (who in fairness were having a decent season) and drew with Sunderland.
But there are enough through-lines from that game to the Liverpool we know now. Just as now, they attacked with pace and purpose, even if the personnel was…not quite what they have today. Just as now, they pounced on mistakes with extreme prejudice: see James Milner’s goal when he intercepted Russell Martin’s maverick no-look backpass to make it 4-3. And just as now, there were signs of the “fucking mentality giants” that Klopp giddily hailed after the Barcelona game last season, recovering from 3-1 down and then an injury-time equaliser to win.
There are even negative elements from games like that which still linger. There was always a highly-entertaining element of high chaos to Liverpool in Klopp’s first couple of years and in fact, one of the things that makes the 2019/20 iteration of Liverpool so watchable is that they still have that in them. Their recent games have been tighter, but for much of the season they’ve had a ‘seat-of-their-pants’ vibe to their play, a sense that it all could go wrong at any moment.
It’s much more endearing than the slightly robotic nature of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. If the two teams were dogs looking for a treat, Liverpool would be an energetic puppy who throws itself around everywhere, whereas City are a military-trained sniffer dog who would methodically snout it out. We all know which one we’d rather pet.
It would be a stretch to say that game was the one that inspired their subsequent success, that sparked something in those early days under Klopp. Nothing is ever as neat as that, and there have been a dozen more significant games over the last four years.
But watching it back there you can see the roots of this current team. They’re still heavy metal, but they’re a stadium band now. That was a wilder, less refined version of the team we see now: more fun for the rest of us, but less satisfying for them. You can be pretty confident that, while there’s still a chance of goals when the two sides meet again on Saturday, most of them will come from Liverpool.
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