Four goals of the highest order from Luis Suarez helped propel Liverpool to a comfortable 5-1 victory against their perennial whipping boys Norwich City on Wednesday evening.
Two goal-of-the-season contenders from Suarez—one a 40-yard half-volley, the other a brilliant solo run and shot—either side of a close range tap-in helped the Uruguayan also claim a Premier League record inside the first 35 minutes, becoming the first player in the competition's history to score three hat-tricks against the same opposition.
It took until midway through the second half for Suarez to grab his fourth, curling a fine free-kick over the wall to round off the scoring comprehensively, before he then provided the assist for Raheem Sterling’s clincher moments from time.
Prior to that, Bradley Johnson had headed home from close range to ensure that Norwich, who were perhaps not quite as bad as the final scoreline suggested, did not go home completely empty-handed.
"It was a brilliant performance, just a pleasure to have watched that," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers told Sky Sports. "Every goal was like a 'wow' goal, from the first right through to the end, so incredible performance by an incredible player and, as I said, it was a real pleasure.
"I really enjoyed watching my team tonight, we were full of creativity and goals and worked very hard."
On another day perhaps Norwich would have escaped the first half still on level terms at 0-0, but Anfield has not been a happy ground for them in recent times and Suarez has certainly not been a comfortable opponent.
And so it proved again on Wednesday, the Uruguayan taking just 15 minutes to get on the scoresheet. It came from a Norwich goal kick—Ruddy’s punt was met by Gerrard, whose header looped over Leroy Fer to find Suarez on the halfway line.
Without so much as a moment’s hesitation Suarez turned and, as the ball sat up nicely, produced a perfectly struck half-volley that swerved away from the despairing Ruddy to find the far corner.
The goal was met with delight by the fans inside the ground, but the player seemed similarly delighted by his second goal—which was somewhat prosaic by his own high standards.
Again Gerrard was the provider, the captain’s corner evading Philippe Coutinho as Suarez twisted his body inside the six-yard box to fire home.
With more than 60 minutes remaining in the game—and considering Suarez’s track record against the Canaries—there must have been few inside Anfield who did not expect their star striker to duly complete his hat-trick. But even they might have been surprised by the haste with which it happened, Suarez producing a rival to his first goal just five minutes later.
This was more an example of his individual skill, as Suarez flicked a cheeky touch over Fer before holding off Ryan Bennett and arrowing a low drive past Ruddy at his far post.
The second half, perhaps understandably, was a less dramatic affair—with Norwich eager to limit the damage and the home side perhaps content with what was already a comfortable scoreline.
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Nevertheless there continued to be good chances, with Joe Allen coming close to a rare goal 10 minutes after half-time as Ruddy tipped over his well-struck effort. Suarez, too, continued to threaten—although more as a provider, as attempted balls to Coutinho and Sterling inside the box were only just intercepted.
Gerrard and Coutinho both forced Ruddy into saves with powerful efforts, but it needed another intervention from Suarez to add a fourth to the scoreline.
Gerrard was fouled 25 yards out but, perhaps aware of his team-mate’s red-hot form, opted not to take the free-kick himself and was rewarded for that selflessness when Suarez curled a pinpoint effort over the wall and inside the unfortunate Ruddy’s near post.
Norwich had occasionally threatened, most frequently through the lively Nathan Redmond, and eventually the young winger got his reward—providing the in-swinging cross for Bradley Johnson to head past Simon Mignolet in front of the Kop.
But it was to prove nothing more than a consolation for Chris Hughton’s side and Sterling finished the scoring as he easily turned home inside the box from Suarez’s clever assist.
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Liverpool return to Anfield in three days' time as they welcome West Ham. Norwich, meanwhile, have another away trip to think about with a visit to West Brom on Saturday.