The Canaries approached the match with plenty of belief and had a number of positive spells – particularly in the first half – but were ultimately beaten by a much sharper Reds side.
While Daniel Farke’s team did not take any points away from their opener, there were a number of elements to the game which would have stood out to City’s German head coach.
Pukki’s lack of match sharpness showed
Predicting the starting XI that Farke would choose to face Liverpool was a difficult task in the lead-up to Saturday’s match following what was a turbulent pre-season for Norwich, mainly due to an outbreak of COVID-19 within the squad.
One of the many first-team players affected by that outbreak was striker Teemu Pukki, who only featured in two of the Canaries’ five friendlies after having to self-isolate for a 10-day period. However, even after missing such a large chunk of pre-season, the Fin was picked to start against Liverpool.
Few Norwich fans doubted the decision to include their top scorer from the last three seasons before the game kicked off, but in truth, he struggled to make any real impact. Pukki’s only sniff of goal came twenty minutes in when Todd Cantwell curled a lofted pass into his path, but his shot from a tight angle did not cause Alisson Becker too much trouble.
On reflection, Farke may feel that he should have started another of his attacking options in Pukki’s place, but clear-cut opportunities probably would have been in short supply for any striker against a very composed Liverpool backline.
Several promising debuts
Four of Norwich’s summer signings were handed their competitive debuts against the Reds, with three of them featuring from the start. While the result was a disappointing one, Farke will feel encouraged by the performances of all four newbies.
Kosovan winger Milot Rashica, who moved to East Anglia from Werder Bremen in June, featured in a front three alongside Pukki and Cantwell on his Premier League debut. Rashica looked lively in the first half and enjoyed his individual battle with Trent Alexander-Arnold, but tired after the break, which was to be expected seeing as the 25-year-old’s pre-season has also been largely interrupted by COVID-19.
Joining Lukas Rupp in a midfield three were Billy Gilmour and Pierre Lees-Melou, who joined the club this summer from Chelsea (on loan) and OGC Nice respectively. Both players flourished in the opening quarter as Norwich enjoyed a good amount of the ball, and it is clear that they will each be key to the team’s survival bid, even at such an early stage of the campaign.
In the 77th minute, American striker Josh Sargent was brought on for his English top-flight debut, having only signed from Werder Bremen earlier this week. In the short spell that he spent on the field, Sargent showed a real hunger to close defenders down and win back possession, which posed a question of why Farke did not choose to bring him on earlier.
A new defensive midfielder is an absolute necessity
While the signings made so far have been encouraging, this defeat further emphasised the need for the Canaries to do some more transfer business before the summer window closes on August 31.
The position where City appear to lack the most depth is defensive midfield, where Oliver Skipp performed so consistently for them last season as they romped to the Championship title. With Skipp seemingly in Nuno Espirito Santo’s plans for the new season at Tottenham Hotspur, it is clear that Norwich need to find a direct replacement.
On Saturday, new loanee Gilmour adopted the holding role in City’s midfield three, but the young Scot is not naturally a player who likes to sit and allow others to join attacks. Ideally, Gilmour needs to be playing alongside someone who will do exactly that.
The lack of a defensive-minded midfielder showed for two of Liverpool’s three goals, and the Canaries’ backline will need greater protection throughout the season if they are going to stand a chance of avoiding relegation.
Fans, glorious fans
A raucous atmosphere was created prior to kick-off, and Norwich’s fans drowned out any noise made by their visiting counterparts right up until the first goal was scored.
Despite the result, a great sense of relief will have been felt by City’s supporters as they returned home, and their support will be invaluable to Farke and his players this term as they attempt to defy the odds.