By Simon Evans
LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) – European champions Liverpool made an emphatic start to the new Premier League season by handing promoted Norwich City a 4-1 thrashing at Anfield on Friday.
Juergen Klopp’s side, runners-up to Manchester City last season, swept aside fellow German Daniel Farke’s team with their trademark attacking verve, taking a 3-0 lead inside 28 minutes.
The unfortunate Grant Hanley scored an own goal before Mo Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Divock Origi netted before halftime, with Norwich scoring through Teemu Pukki just after the hour.
The only setback for Klopp on an encouraging night came with an injury to Brazilian keeper Alisson Becker who was taken off in the 39th after suffering what appeared to be a calf injury.
Becker’s misfortune handed an unexpectedly early debut to Spanish keeper Adrian, who had been, prudently, signed as cover on a free transfer just four days previously.
Liverpool’s achievement of winning their sixth European title by beating Tottenham Hotspur in May’s Champions League final in Madrid, was celebrated in song and choreographed displays by their supporters before the game.
For one of the unlikely heroes of that campaign, Belgian forward Origi, there was the reward of a starting place ahead of Sadio Mane, while Joe Gomez was preferred to Joel Matip alongside Van Dijk at the back.
It took just seven minutes for Liverpool to open their account as Norwich captain Hanley, attempting to clear a low cross from the left by Origi, sliced the ball into his own goal.
Salah, joint league top scorer last season on 22 goals along with Mane and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, then doubled the lead in the 19th with a characteristic left-foot finish from a tight angle after a nice set-up from Roberto Firmino.
The game was virtually over in the 28th minute when Norwich made it far too easy for Van Dijk to nod home a Salah corner to make it 3-0 and it could have been four just minutes later but Norwich keeper Tim Krul did well to keep out a Firmino volley.
Liverpool suffered a blow when Becker went off just before halftime but Origi made it 4-0 three minutes before the break with a well-placed header from a right-wing Trent Alexander-Arnold cross.
After the break Jordan Henderson had a shot pushed on to the bar by Krul after nice work from Origi and Firmino somehow put the ball wide from close range as Liverpool threatened to add more misery to Norwich’s return to the top flight.
The East Anglians got a reward for their efforts when, moments after substitute Moritz Leitner struck the bar, their Finnish striker Pukki got a goal back in the 64th with a smart finish after being found by a clever Emiliano Buendia pass.
Norwich fans will take some encouragement from the way their team stuck at their task after the break and this fixture was always going to be a tough assignment after a three-season absence from the Premier League.
However, Liverpool’s win was a clear message to Pep Guardiola’s City that they can expect, at the very least, another strong challenge from Klopp’s men.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris)