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Norwich 0-1 Liverpool: Sadio Mane’s 100th goal in English football extends Reds’ lead to 25 points

Not even the elements can tame Liverpool. Not even the gale that blew across Carrow Road on Saturday night can disrupt them. Not even the rain that swirled in the floodlight glare and stung in fierce squalls can thwart them. Nor a Norwich side fighting an increasingly forlorn battle for survival at the foot of the table. Nothing can stop their inexorable march towards the title.

Storm Dennis frustrated them for a while and threatened to knock them out of their stride with the challenges it presented to their passing. And Norwich did their bit with some fine football of their own. But there is an inevitability about Liverpool winning these days. It is, after all, October 20 since they last dropped a point. This 1-0 win took them 25 points clear at the top.

Liverpool unleash the tempest. They do not bow before it. There were 12 minutes to go when they finally got the breakthrough their play had deserved. The Premier League’s top team beat the bottom team with a brilliant goal from second half substitute Sadio Mane, returning after injury. The range of their playing options is another of the things that makes them so formidable.

Liverpool need 15 points to win the title now and that is if Manchester City, beset by the controversy over their Champions League ban, do not drop any more. ‘We shall not be moved,’ the Liverpool fans sang delightedly, over and over again after the final whistle. They have earned the right to celebrate after these last 30 years of hurt.

The victory unleashed another storm of statistics as Liverpool’s incredible run goes on. Jurgen Klopp’s side now has the best record after 26 matches in the history of the top five European leagues. They have now gone 43 top-flight matches unbeaten, six matches behind Arsenal’s record of 49 games set in 2003-04.

They have earned 103 points from the last 105 available to them in the Premier League. They have won 34 of their last 35 league games and their 76 points from 26 matches this season is a top-flight record. You are probably starting to get the picture. To witness Liverpool this season is to watch something very special.

Both teams battled gamely against the conditions in the first half. Both refused to compromise their style too much. Despite the intense pressure they were put under by the Liverpool press, Norwich persisted in trying to beat it with their clever passing out from the back and put together several promising moves that foundered in the final third.

Liverpool were their usual relentless selves. Some had assumed that Alexander-Arnold’s ability to test the opposition defence with beautifully judged long passes would be negated by the wind and swirling rain. But the Liverpool right back was not deterred. Time and again, he spread the Norwich defence with perfectly-flighted 40 yard balls out to Andy Robertson on the left.

Liverpool dominated possession but could not convert it into goalscoring opportunities. Norwich goalkeeper Tim Krul was barely tested. Klopp said later that Liverpool played too many long balls out of defence in the first half and that his midfield were taken by surprise and did not win enough second balls.

Alexander-Arnold flashed one shot wide in the first minute of the half and another one just before the interval. Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah nearly found a path through the backfour with a clever interchange of passes but were foiled by a defender’s intervention. 

In fact, it was Norwich who forged the first clear chance of the game ten minutes before half time when Lukas Rupp ran on to a raking long ball over the top of the Liverpool defence and took it down with his first touch. 

Confronted by Alisson, who had rushed to the edge of his area to meet him, Rupp’s nerve seemed to fail him and instead of shooting, he tried to lay the ball off to Teemu Pukki. The chance disappeared in that second.

Pukki pulled his right foot back to shoot but Alisson had anticipated what he was going to do. He flung himself to his right and was close enough to push the ball away and the danger was gone. It was another reminder of how important to his team the Brazilian keeper has become.

Norwich manager Daniel Farke rued the miss later. ‘We did not keep our cool in this moment,’ he said. ‘If we are going to win, a 2-on-1 like that must be a goal.’ It was a glimpse of hope for Norwich but Liverpool pushed them back and back and back for the rest of the half. Alexander-Arnold was still prominent in their attacks and their set-pieces, probing and probing with a series of corners from the Norwich right and a free-kick from the edge of the box.

Norwich, and Krul, were equal to them all although there was one alarm when an Andy Robertson cross created some confusion between Krul and Christoph Zimmermann. Both assumed the other was going to claim the loose ball and left it. Then both tried to deal with it and Zimmermann headed it out of Krul’s grasp before Salah put them both out of their misery by crossing it into Krul’s hands.

Liverpool resumed their siege of the Norwich area after the interval and Krul tipped over a shot from Naby Keita. Virgil van Dijk rose highest from the resulting corner but could only direct a tame header straight at Krul.

Krul had to work a lot harder to keep Liverpool out soon afterwards. Salah pulled down a high ball beautifully in the Norwich area and even though he was surrounded by defenders, he managed to turn and fire a low right foot shot towards goal from 10 yards out.

Krul got down sharply to his right and palmed the ball away but it popped up invitingly for Keita who was inside the six-yard box. It seemed Keita only had to make contact to score but somehow Krul recovered and smothered Keita’s shot at point blank range. His teammates surrounded him to congratulate him.

After another sustained burst of Liverpool pressure, Norwich nearly scored again 18 minutes from time. Todd Cantwell led a lightning break down the left before turning inside and playing a ball across the face of the area to Alex Tettey. Tettey let the ball run across his body and took it so wide that it seemed the chance to shoot had gone but then he unleashed a low drive that caught Alisson by surprise and cannoned off the base of the post.

Then Liverpool hit back. Henderson, many people’s favourite for the Footballer of the Year even amidst the stellar cast he is a part of, drove them forwards again and again here. His energy and his hunger never dim. Complacency is as far away from his mind now as it was on the first day of the season.

So it was no surprise that it was the skipper who lofted the key long ball forwards towards Mane. Norwich claimed Mane pushed Zimmermann but this time there was to be no shelter from the storm. Mane leapt to control it brilliantly, athletically, with his outstretched right foot and then turned and lashed it past Krul with his left foot.

Firmino should have put Liverpool two up four minutes from time when Alexander-Arnold drilled another cross into his path but the Brazil striker lifted it high over the bar from a few yards out to general consternation and a sense of disbelief.

It did not dampen Liverpool spirits for long. ‘We’re going to win the league, we’re going to win the league,’ the Liverpool fans corralled in the far corner of the ground sang. We reached the stage some time ago where nobody is going to argue with that.

 

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