Liverpool might be favourites to bounce back against Norwich after their defeat to Manchester United last weekend, but the form of the Canaries and a few key issues for Liverpool should make this a closer encounter than the bookies anticipate. Concern continues to grow over Fenway Sports Group’s ownership of the club; Liverpool’s owners have released two players and so far only brought Daniel Sturridge in during a window where they were supposed to be adding to an already thin squad. The form of Joe Allen and Rodgers’ insistence on picking him no matter what could also be a decisive factor.
The Honeymoon period for Fenway Sports Group’s ownership of Liverpool is well and truly over. For a long time they have gotten by on the fact that they saved the club from administration but this season their net spend on players hasn’t been great for a club of Liverpool’s size. Fabio Borini (£10 million), Joe Allen (£15 million) and Daniel Sturridge (£12 million) all commanded significant transfer fees, but all were offset by the significant reduction in wages brought about by the sales of Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez, Craig Bellamy, Alberto Aquilani, Joe Cole and Nuri Sahin. Sure, the club’s bank balance looks healthy, but with the sale and release of those players, Liverpool have lost (in some cases) irreplaceable experience and quality. The owners’ obsession with trimming the wage bill will mean Liverpool never experience ownership as careless as Hicks & Gillette, but it could also mean the club never challenges for major honours again in an increasingly monetary dominated league.
As Kristian Walsh wrote in this piece the club’s pursuit of young talent; around the age of 22 and preferably British is a policy that makes sense in theory. Good young players won’t just win once or twice, but they’ll keep on winning and as they reach their peak they’ll get better. This is fine in theory but in reality young players generally need time to develop before they can make a real impact. Lucas Leiva took a few seasons to prosper, and Jordan Henderson is only now starting to come good. Fabio Borini and Joe Allen haven’t really propelled Liverpool instantly upwards. These players are long-term investments, not short term fixes. FSG are avoiding some of the most talented players in the market, purely because of their age and salaries, but in doing so they are also leaving Liverpool desperately short of experience, and it shows in games where they have their backs against the wall.
Daniel Sturridge seems to be the exception to the rule, in that he’s only 22 but seems set to be an instant hit at the club. He and Suarez struck up a great partnership when he came on at Old Trafford. His pace forced United back, which in turn created space for Suarez to work between the lines. It would be immensely disappointing if the two didn’t start together against Norwich, because if they do they could cause problems. Bwin are offering good odds for a draw €5.50, while Daniel Sturridge to score first is paying €4.50. More odds are available at https://sports.bwin.com/en/sports/4/betting/football
Where Liverpool might have problems of their own is in the composition of the midfield. Joe Allen started well at Liverpool but has been ordinary for months now and had one of his worst games at Old Trafford, giving the ball away constantly just inside his own half, which United nearly capitalized on time and time again. Henderson has impressed every time he’s come on lately but Rodgers has shown faith in Allen time and time again. Norwich are a team who like to counter and they’ll feed off mistakes in the centre of the field. The intelligent movement and energy of Henderson certainly warrants a start and if Rodgers is to continue a game based on dominating possession then the pin up boy for his style needs to stop giving the ball away.
As for Liverpool’s opponents, Norwich are in need of a good result to pick up their momentum again. They had hit a good run of form earlier in the season but in their last three have lost two and drawn one. Chris Hughton had made the Canaries one of the best defensive sides in the league with dogged defensive displays but in recent weeks they’ve added attacking dynamism to the picture, at the expense of goals at their own end. History favours Liverpool though, as Norwich haven’t beaten Liverpool since 1994.
Nonetheless, Liverpool are favourites to win this encounter, although not by the margin the bookies are calling. Despite growing concerns over Liverpool’s ownership, the addition of Sturridge has made Liverpool a far more potent threat. If he and Suarez can continue their promising partnership Liverpool should win in an open game. The Reds main weakness however remains in the midfield. So often the engine room, the dynamics have been all wrong and mistakes to common, which is a situation Norwich could exploit.