For Jurgen Klopp, this was the start of the long goodbye. For his Liverpool team, it was the first step in making sure their manager leaves in the only appropriate manner available at the end of this season.
There will be no shortage of emotion and melancholy round these parts between now and the end of May. It’s inevitable, whether Klopp wants it or not. But what Liverpool’s season really must yield now is trophies.
Klopp’s eight and a half years at Anfield may have been about glamour and excitement and energy and identity. But they have been about winning too.
So if his current Liverpool squad owe their outgoing manager anything over the course of the next four months or so then it’s more victories, more success, more silverware.
As it stands, Liverpool are alive in every competition that stood before them last August.
Liverpool eased to victory in their first game since Jurgen Klopp announced he will leave the club at the end of the season
The Reds manager received a hero’s reception inside Anfield from the home faithful in attendance on Sunday
Klopp’s players delivered, as they have done his whole reign, and remain in all four competitions they started the season in
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Top of the Premier League, in the final of the Carabao Cup, in the knock out stages of the Europa League and, after this, in the fifth round of the FA Cup too.
Had we not known what we know, namely that Klopp will leave Liverpool this summer, then there would not have been anything out of the ordinary about this occasion or indeed this dismissal of a spirited but defensively flawed Norwich team.
Norwich once ruined a great Anfield day, by winning 1-0 here on the occasion of the last game before the old Kop terrace was knocked down in 1994. Here there was never a chance of a repeat.
But, no, there was nothing particularly poignant or emotional about this game, not that was visible anyway.
Nothing in the match programme. No banners. No new songs.
Rather it was just another example of Liverpool doing what they do and that, in its own way, served as the greatest tribute to Klopp and all that he has brought to this great institution.
Liverpool ran hard, passed quickly, hustled for possession when they didn’t have it and, eventually, scored five goals when they probably could have scored double.
There was also a return to the field as substitutes of the hitherto injured trio of Andrew Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominink Szoboszlai.
When Robertson appeared after so many weeks out, the reception almost lifted the roof off this fabulously reconditioned old stadium.
So with Liverpool’s roster replenished and with young players such as full-back Conor Bradley and midfielder James McConnell emerging at pace – both were excellent here – there is a quickly gathering momentum threatening to push this season forward.
On Wednesday Chelsea visit in the league and then, next Sunday, Klopp takes his players to Arsenal.
Nobody would wish to play them at the moment and if news of Klopp’s plans are to energise his players – rather than have the opposite effect – then this 90 minutes of football may one day be viewed as the start of all that.
Andy Robertson also returned for Liverpool in the game having missed a number of months through injury
Liverpool took the lead early on when Curtis Jones headed in, before Ben Gibson equalised
For Liverpool supporters, all of this must serve to encourage but also to frustrate. After the transitional difficulties of last season, this is a Liverpool squad that now looks perfectly set up to grow and develop in to something to love and savour over the next few years.
How hard it must be, then, to accept that the man best capable of guiding them and leading them to where they need to go is readying himself to walk in to the sunset before the summer is even upon us.
Here, under a spotlight that nobody would have expected when the cup draw was made, Klopp fielded an under-strength team that was still strong enough. Norwich, managed by Klopp’s old friend David Wagner, were committed and organised but persistently failed by individual errors.
Ben Gibson shocked the Anfield faithful with an equaliser, but the Reds were by no means fazed by the strike
Darwin Nunez restored the lad a matter of minutes later with a neat finish low into the corner
Liverpool threatened from the start and Darwin Nunez struck a post from 20 yards. Then, in the 16th minute, they scored as McConnell, on his first start, chipped a cross on to Curtis Jones’ head.
The finish, across Norwich’s stand-in goalkeeper George Long, was neat and well angled.
Norwich had no possession and no territory at this point but, still, they equalised. Joe Gomez snuffed out a break by blocking a cross but when the resulting corner was whipped towards the near post, Ben Gibson’s backwards header found the far corner.
Anfield was irritated rather than stunned. This version of Liverpool does concede the occasionally poor goal and this was one.
But the memory was soon wiped by a Liverpool goal that perhaps more than anything we saw here summed up much of what has traditionally been so good about Klopp’s team.
Diogo Jota gave the Reds a two-goal cushion with a fine strike after an error from Ben Gibson
Red captain Virgil van Dijk, who has been one of the best players of the Klopp era, added a fourth just after the hour
Despite Borja Sainz netting, Ryan Gravenberch scored a Liverpool fifth deep into stoppage time of a successful afternoon
Bradley – the 20-year-old Northern Irish full-back – hustled an opponent out of possession with tigerish energy on the far touchline and this lit the touchpaper.
With Norwich caught short of numbers and out of balance, Bradley was able to advance and then play Darwin Nunez through the middle. Liverpool’s raw but talented centre forward still had much to do and he has certainly missed clearer chances than this over the last season and a half.
But this time his low right-foot shot was perfectly struck and it found the bottom right-hand corner of the Norwich goal with goalkeeper Long unable to do anything about it.
Liverpool missed other chances before half-time – Cody Gakpo and Ryan Gravenberch the culprits – but when Gibson made a mess of heading away a long ball seven minutes in to the second period, Diogo Jota volleyed it in with that familiar calmness of his to ensure there were to be no surprises.
Klopp was serenaded by the Liverpool fans following the game – just a few months of his reign at the club remain
Ten substitutes arrived in the final half an hour – what a nonsense that all is – and one of Liverpool’s scored almost immediately, Virgil van Dijk heading in from a corner.
A stunning 25-yard right footer from Borja Sainz at least gave Norwich supporters something better to think about on the way home but some familiarly poor defending allowed Gravenberch to head Liverpool’s fifth deep in to added time and that was the end of it.
Earlier, it had taken only 57 seconds of the game for the first Klopp song to tumble down from the Kop. As he left the field at the end, meanwhile, they sang one of their favourites.
‘I’m so glad Jurgen is a red…’ is how it goes and indeed he is. For now, at least.