Saturday , March 2 2024

Reds breeze into FA Cup fifth round as Klopp farewell tour begins

 
The farewell tour for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp began with a simple 5-2 victory over Norwich in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
 

Cody Gakpo, Curtis Jones, Darwin Nunez, Liverpool, January 2024

 
The Reds boss, who on Friday announced his departure at the end of the season, sat in contemplative mood as the Kop belted out ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before kick-off.

It was followed up in the first minute by a rendition of ‘I’m so glad that Jurgen is a Red’ but the German will have been pleased the focus swung to on the pitch action immediately afterwards as, with the battle continuing on four fronts, there is plenty of football still to play.

Klopp does not want his final four months to be an indulgent love-in and his players got the message as they saw off their spirited Championship opponents – managed by Klopp’s good friend David Wagner – with clinical professionalism after a minor blip.

Curtis Jones’ fifth goal in as many home games – marking the best goalscoring season of his career – and Darwin Nunez’s third in his last three were eclipsed by the quality of Diogo Jota’s volley for the third.

Headers from Virgil van Dijk and Ryan Gravenberch kick-started the first of what is likely to be many parties at Anfield.

The visitors were under pressure from the off with Joe Gomez having a shot deflected wide and Nunez curling a shot against the post after Jack Stacey lost possession.

Jones broke the deadlock when he headed home a deep cross to the far post by 19-year-old James McConnell, making his full debut in central midfield.

The teenager celebrated by simply raising both arms in the air but the biggest compliment you could pay him was that he did not look out of place in a much-changed team whose bench included Van Dijk, Luis Diaz, Dominik Szoboszlai, Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Harvey Elliott.

Klopp cited one of the reasons for not quitting after last season’s widespread struggles was his desire to put things right and leave the club in a good place for his successor.

In McConnell and 20-year-old defenders Conor Bradley and Jarell Quansah the future looks secure.

However, a defence missing the authority of Van Dijk switched off at a 22nd-minute corner and Ben Gibson flicked a near-post header from Gabriel Sara’s inswinger past Alisson Becker.

But Nunez quickly restored their lead when Bradley won possession just inside Norwich’s half, exchanged passes with Jota and squared for the Uruguay international to slot home.

The visitors’ hopes were virtually extinguished early in the second half by Jota’s brilliant volley after Grant Hanley had headed Jones’ long pass straight up in the air.

A triple substitution followed immediately with the reception for Van Dijk and Szoboszlai drowned out by the cheer for Robertson as he made his first appearance since October after a dislocated shoulder.

Van Dijk’s header from a corner put Liverpool out of sight and even Borja Sainz’s superb strike from distance was scant consolation as the siege continued at the other end, with goalkeeper George Long overworked.

Alexander-Arnold came off the bench after a knee problem to play the final 24 minutes in midfield as they continued to tune up a number of their recent absentees before the midweek Premier League visit of Chelsea and Gravenberch’s close-range header completed the rout.

The last two occasions Liverpool beat Norwich in the FA Cup at Anfield they went on to win the trophy.

With a home draw against more Championship opponents in either Watford or Southampton the fates seem to be aligning for a potentially epic Klopp farewell and, even without the manager’s traditional post-match fist pumps, the Kop need no encouragement to celebrate every moment.




 

 
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