Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 5 Norwich City 2 in the 2023-2024 FA Cup fourth round…
I WAS watching the third round game between Sunderland and Newcastle.
It occurred to me that not only could lower division Sunderland not bully Newcastle physically, not only could they not play “they don’t like it up ’em” football the like of which we would have seen in time immemorial in this competition, in fact the boot was on the other foot.
The Premier League side was physically dominant and happier with a scrap, happy to create a scrap and then win a scrap. Newcastle are an extreme example but then, well, so are we. Arguably doubly extreme.
Because a reason – not the only reason, but one of the bigger ones – is Jürgen Klopp. Jürgen Klopp has made the sort of pitchwide intensity 10 games a season that used to be necessary at the highest level be necessary constantly. You want to be the best? You have to have the best technique and work like demons. But smart demons.
Championship sides have a variant of that, but not the full hit. Today Norwich City walked into the full hit and walked into it over and over and over again.
One of my favourite of these I ever wrote – it’s been a few days that demand nostalgia of sorts – was the night we won at Plymouth due to a Lucas Leiva header. It is here and is about the flaw in the idea that they don’t like it up em, that the real football happens outside the Premier League, and a remarkable person becoming a Liverpudlian.
Graft is everything. Putting a stint in. Winning your battles. Being smart with it, though. Knowing. Working out how to know. And then being a part of something.
Conor Bradley is the day’s finest Liverpudlian. His first half especially was a delight. He worked and knew and found over and over. He battered Norwich City because Norwich City didn’t have a Conor Bradley plan and by the time they realised they needed one – I’m saying 1455 GMT – it was all too late. No time to get one together.
Indeed, the best thing that happened to Norwich City with reference to Conor Bradley was the change of shape after Darwin Nuñez came off and Trent Alexander-Arnold – who is really good at football – came on. That helped them deal with him.
It had been Bradley’s half, the game’s defining force, quite something given his teammates and everything else going on.
Diogo Jota was the smartest man in town. He kept popping up in space and should have been released over and over. Darwin Nunez scored the goal we need him to score, but he terrified the Norwich defence.
Norwich were – Ashley Barnes’s 80-yarder and Sainz’s 20 yarder a side – too sane, too normal, too conventional to live with Liverpool.
James McConnell made a full debut which was excellent for an hour before he tired – too much time spent on Jürgen’s benches one suspects. He was bright as a button and played an inch-perfect ball for the opener.
The subs who aren’t really subs came on and looked sharp and suddenly the manager has a selection headache, as strange as that may be.
The manager. Today is out of the way and done with aplomb, with five goals, five scorers, five ways home, five stars.
But Wednesday is the biggest game of our lives and we have work to do. A stint to put in. We have many dancefloors to dance on and we have someone magnificent to dance with, to see off, also with aplomb.
Today is a big, useful first step in that. Today is out the way and it was more than fine. It’s clear he’s leaving a blueprint and some special tools behind.
But more than that, the feeling that we could just have it all grows. Have it all or give it all in pursuit. Tonight that’ll do for me.
That and being a part of something.