No matter what the scoreline, every match reaction so far this season has ended with a warning not to get carried away — to keep the hype under our hats and our heads down ’cause it’s not going to last. Well, today, we’re going to do things a little bit differently.
There’s progress being made on Merseyside; I talked about it midweek and we saw it in action today. A James Morrison penalty may have spoiled the clean-sheet, but a magical Luis Suarez hattrick and an audacious chip from Daniel Sturridge was more than enough to banish the memories of West Bromwich Albion’s historic double last season and send former Liverpool number two Steve Clarke back to the Midlands empty handed.
Neither side would do much in the way of threatening for the opening ten minutes with the Baggies pressing hard to stifle the Reds build up play. Clarke has worked hard to drill defensive stability into his side and in the early stages it looked like we’d see that resoluteness take center stage today only for Suarez to break down the barriers with less than 15 minutes played.
The Uruguayan had a shout for a free-kick waved away after being hauled down on the edge of area, but he’d quickly have his revenge when a long pass from Kolo Toure found the striker with space to run; a skip, a feint, the trademark nutmeg and he’s around Jonas Olsson and slotting past Boaz Myhill before you can say 1-nil. The striker would do it again five minutes later when a buildup of 15 – 16 passes culminated in one of the best goals you’re sure to see.
We knew that on-loan Valencia winger Aly Cissokho would whip in a cross or two, but under pressure from the Baggies back-line, the fullback would send in a picture perfect cross for Suarez to head home — from the edge of the box. Words can’t adequately explain the skill involved in that; the ability to place the ball and generate the raw power needed to send a header with that much pace from outside the box and beat a ‘keeper of Myhill’s pedigree showed otherworldly skill.
Suarez looked to turn creator when his freekick found Steven Gerrard at the byline to center for Martin Skrtel, but the Slovakian would whiff what looked like a simple tap-in. Claudio Yacob gave Suarez another opportunity with another free-kick from 25+ yards before Stéphane Sessègnon and Nicolas Anelka got things going for the visitors only for Lucas to nip in and kill off the chance.
A pair of counter-attacks saw Jordan Henderson go close with a curling effort and Suarez almost made it three after Daniel Sturridge instigated a fast break from the half-way line, but it would be West Brom who’d go closest when Anelka collected a long ball that Skrtel had misjudged. With Simon Mignolet well beaten after dashing off his line, the Slovakian defender atoned for his mistake by hustling to clear the French strikers prodded effort off the line.
Chances at either end of the pitch opened the second half as Yacob — pantomime villain for much of the match — sent a shot in just wide after Mignolet was left flapping at a corner and Henderson was given a chance to redeem his first half miss only to shoot agonizingly wide, but it would be Suarez, unsurprisingly, that was next on the scoresheet.
Unsurprisingly, it would be Yacob finding himself in the book with yet another foul on Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard would step up to whip in the resulting free kick from the left for Suarez, who always looked like he was going to take home the match ball, to head home and claim his hat-trick. James Morrison — on as a sub in the first half for Morgan Amalfitano — had a chance to pull one back when a defensive mix-up gave the winger a good shout. Daniel Sturridge saw a pair of chances go begging, including a stunning strike that ricocheted off the bar, before Billy Jones won the visitors a controversial penalty.
Aly Cissokho and Lucas combined to sandwich the Englishman just inside the area and though the ref initially waived the calls for a penalty away, the linesman would flag for the spot kick that Morrison would duly convert — though it would make little difference when Sturridge scored a over the top chip just over ten minutes later.
A pair of chances for Chris Brunt could have very well drawn the visitors level, but Sturridge wouldn’t be denied as he floated in a chip above Myhill that would put the match out of reach. Suarez came close to a fourth with an overhead kick that was well saved by the Welsh ‘keeper, but the match had run its course by this point. Joe Allen would replace Steven Gerrard and Luis Alberto found his way onto the pitch for Suarez as both left to standing ovations and three points secured for Brendan Rodgers side.
Four goals, two on either side of the half, and full points against a team we couldn’t find the net against over two legs last season gives us the perfect springboard for the trip to the Emirates next weekend. Cautious optimism be damned; we can push on from here and smack the Gunners a good one. No one is ready to call us legitimate title challengers, but there’s little doubt that we can be legitimate Champions League contenders.