Reds' hot-shots set sights on big guns
Published 21/01/2013 | 05:00
Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool reign can be summed up thus far as a study in the art of flat-track bullying.
The noses of the Premier League leaders may remain unbloodied, but some serious punishment has started to be dished out to the rest and, in Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, already developing a potent partnership, Rodgers may have paired the ultimate tormentors.
Norwich City will feel especially harassed having conceded another five on top of the battering they received in the home match earlier in the season.
Sturridge continued a streak matched by only six other Liverpool players – scoring in his first three games for the club – and Suarez again showed why only Robin van Persie, and his own notoriety currently stand between him and the Player of the Year award.
Pick apart the Uruguayan's character as much as you like, but if you do not enjoy watching him play, you do not like football.
Any apprehension that the South American – prolific as a lone striker – would be compromised to make way for his new partner were emphatically banished.
Sturridge's inclusion created an adaptable formation in which Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson – who also both scored brilliant individual goals – effectively created a four-man attack. Glen Johnson was also as much left-winger as left-back, covering the whole of one side of the pitch.
"This is a model we are trying to develop and create which is about fluidity and mobility," said Rodgers.
"When you have mobile players with intelligent movement it shifts defenders and creates the sort of space that Luis thrives in. He is a European-style player, so our model suits him, and a team that flows like ours suits him."
The gulf in class left you a little perplexed as much as enthusiastic about the quality of the hosts, the lingering question being why, when Liverpool can be this good, they remain so far off the pace, still a distant hope even for a top-four place.
The answer lies in a mass of unresolved contradictions that were even reflected in the subdued atmosphere at Anfield.
It is hard to remember the Kop celebrating such an emphatic victory so passively. Rarely has such an exuberant display been met with such restraint.
When Ryan Bennett concluded an afternoon of despair for visiting manager Chris Hughton, deflecting in substitute Raheem Sterling's left-wing cross for Liverpool's fifth, the home supporters clapped appreciatively, chortled a bit and acknowledged a third consecutive routine home win.
There was no sense of euphoria. There were no wild proclamations that those at the top need to start looking over their shoulder.
Perhaps it was the chilly conditions numbing tonsils that one would have expected to be in full voice.
Most likely, that approving but reserved applause was the signal reality is finally dawning. Too much hype has attached itself to hope after previous impressive victories.
"We need to play like that against the bigger teams now," was the universal, reflective observation from the manager, directors, dressing-room and stands.
"With the greatest respect to the teams we've beaten in the last three home games, they are ones we should be beating at Anfield," said Jamie Carragher, restored to the starting line-up in place of Martin Skrtel. "We have three tough away games coming up now, so we need to take this form into those."
Such po-faced sobriety is welcome at Anfield. What can be stated objectively is that this, in every detail, was the most complete and absorbing performance of Rodgers' reign.
There have been 12 goals in the last three home games in a stadium Liverpool could not win back-to-back not so long ago.
You see the trend. Liverpool are getting better. They will not be good enough until one of the top four is left feeling as bruised as those who have been comprehensively dispatched recently, but in the interests of balance it is often necessary to point out that Liverpool have not finished above sixth since 2009.
They are currently one place (seventh) above where their newest manager found them.
Liverpool play Manchester City and Arsenal in the league next – an ideal opportunity for them to start picking on someone their own size. (© Daily Telegraph, London)