HAVING been branded too quiet by their manager, Liverpool responded with a booming statement of intent.
The biggest victory of Brendan Rodgers’ reign was secured courtesy of an attacking masterclass which pummelled Norwich City into submission.
If defeat at Old Trafford, where the wounds were self-inflicted, painfully exposed Liverpool’s limitations, this dominant performance accentuated their strengths.
To focus on the paucity of the Canaries’ contribution to the contest would spectacularly miss the point. Chris Hughton’s side were simply outclassed as the Reds maintained an intensity and tempo the visitors couldn’t handle.
When Rodgers took over last summer he vowed to make a trip to Anfield the longest 90 minutes of an opponent’s life.
Achieving that was always going to take more than simply restoring the oldest surviving ‘This is Anfield’ sign in the tunnel and re-fitting the red nets. Rodgers inherited a squad who won just six of their 19 home league matches last term – the club’s worst tally for 60 years.
Rather than be inspired, the pressure and expectation of performing in L4 had become a burden but times finally appear to be changing.
This was a third straight home league win with Norwich, Sunderland and Fulham sent packing by a combined tally of 12-0. Of course those are games Liverpool should be winning but the same three fixtures last term generated a miserable return of just two points.
Now the challenge facing Rodgers’ side is to dispel suggestions they are merely flat-track bullies – capable of hammering the Premier League’s lesser lights but unable to deliver the goods against higher calibre opponents.
Liverpool have yet to beat anyone in the top 10 this season. With back-to-back trips to Arsenal and Manchester City coming up after next Sunday’s FA Cup tie at Oldham, they will have the opportunity to put that right.
By then Rodgers will hope to have added reinforcements to his squad. Whether he’s able to convince Fenway Sports Group to be flexible with their transfer policy of investing in youth will be watched with interest.
The manager has made no secret of his desire to add an injection of experience in order to hasten the rate of progress. With the top four not out of sight and both the FA Cup and Europa League still up for grabs, a show of real ambition from the owners could reap major rewards.
What impact loosening the purse strings in January can have on a team was perfectly illustrated for Reds chairman Tom Werner, who watched from the directors box on Saturday.
Daniel Sturridge has enjoyed a stunning start to his Anfield career. It’s still early days but the faith shown by Rodgers in the £12million man is being repaid in style.
Not since Ray Kennedy in 1974 has a Liverpool player scored in his first three appearances for the club. If he maintains that hot streak against Oldham he will be in a league of his own.
Sturridge has set about silencing his doubters with relish. His goals are a welcome addition but he’s providing so much more than that with his pace, intelligent movement and ability to hold the ball up.
The understanding he has already struck up with Luis Suarez is hugely promising. This was the first time they had started a game together but some of their link-up play was sublime.
When Sturridge departed to a standing ovation midway through the second half, the Kop showed their appreciation for a memorable home debut by chanting his name.
It was a sign of acceptance. His body-popping goal celebration may not win universal approval but if he keeps performing at this level even that will be forgiven.
Having ploughed a lone furrow for so long, Suarez finally has some support. If only the cavalry had arrived five months earlier.
Suarez flourished in a deeper role behind Sturridge, dropping off into space and wreaking havoc.
There’s something about the sight of canary yellow which brings out the best in the Uruguayan. This time there was no hat-trick but there was also no let-up as Norwich’s backline were tormented throughout.
The front two aside, there was an abundance of positives for Rodgers. Steven Gerrard produced another display to savour as he bossed the midfield.
Hurtling into tackles to win back possession, the tireless skipper repeatedly drove the hosts forward with his exquisite range of passing.
Alongside him, Jordan Henderson grabbed his chance to shine in place of Joe Allen. It wasn’t a bolt out of the blue.
Henderson’s form has improved markedly in recent months. No longer does he resemble a rabbit caught in the headlights as he did during a tough first season at Anfield. His energy and work-rate have never been in question but now the 22-year-old is demanding the ball and using it wisely rather than looking to off-load it sideways.
The England international’s first Premier League goal since last May will live long in the memory. After Suarez’s run was halted on the edge of the box, Henderson pounced on the loose ball and hammered an unstoppable half volley past Mark Bunn.
The 26th-minute opener was crucial as a Norwich side set up to contain Liverpool had no option but to come out of their shell. The result was plenty of space in behind their backline which the Reds exploited with glee.
A second goal arrived before the break with Lucas Leiva’s pass brilliantly dummied by Sturridge, who had spotted Suarez’s run. The Reds’ top scorer ran through and finished in style for his 20th goal of the season.
At the other end Brad Jones, deputising for the injured Pepe Reina, was rarely troubled. In front of him, the assured presence of Jamie Carragher, selected ahead of Martin Skrtel, provided the kind of organisation and authority so lacking at Old Trafford. It was only Carragher’s second league start of the campaign but provided a timely reminder of his enduring worth to Liverpool.
In the second half the Reds were rampant. Just before the hour mark Henderson’s clipped pass was expertly volleyed back across goal by Stewart Downing for Sturridge to convert from close range.
Gerrard then unleashed a trademark 30-yard piledriver into the bottom corner and the introduction of Raheem Sterling and Fabio Borini ensured momentum was maintained.
When Sterling burst away from Michael Turner and saw his shot turned into his own net by Ryan Bennett a five-star display was complete.
Now Liverpool need to replicate that mentality on their travels to prove Saturday was a sign of things to come rather than merely another false dawn.