Greek internationals of vast promise graced both halves of the pitch, but gifts were only sent one way. Liverpool cruised into the fourth round and suggested that, should they fancy it, they have the depth for a serious tilt at their first League Cup win since 2012.
A relatively experienced side made light work of opponents who are evidently low on morale, repeating the scoreline recorded in the Premier League iteration of this fixture five and-a-half weeks ago.
Kostas Tsimikas stole the show, suggesting again that he is a more than capable deputy for Andy Robertson, and was directly responsible for two goals. But fate hit his compatriot Christos Tzolis, a vaunted 19‑year‑old who cost Norwich £10m from PAOK last month, rather more cruelly.
Tzolis had been the hosts’ best player during the first half but the records will merely show that, with the interval beckoning, he fluffed a penalty that would have brought them in level. Moreover, it emerged he had not been the designated taker; his attempt to make amends from the rebound resulted in an air kick and, from there, Liverpool would gather breath before pulling clear.
In truth none of these occurrences will register in the post-season conversation around Daniel Farke’s dressing room whether or not Norwich, who have lost the first five top-flight games of their latest survival bid, stay in the Premier League. But there is an undercurrent of frustration here, and at such an early stage too. Another comfortable defeat merely augmented it: a half‑strength selection received a smattering of boos at full time and Farke badly needs a result at Everton on Saturday if he is to lighten the mood.
“The penalty was of course the key moment,” said Farke, who did not mince his words about Tzolis’s moment of hubris. “Christos was not the first on the teamsheet [to take it]. He got greedy. If you do this you have to make sure you score, otherwise you are in trouble. He will never ever do this mistake in his life again, that’s for sure.”
Liverpool’s Caoimhin Kelleher saves Christos Tzolis’s penalty. Photograph: Jed Leicester/REX/Shutterstock
Jürgen Klopp has no such concerns. He resisted any temptation to saturate his starting XI with debutants, although the two who began held plenty of interest. The right-back Conor Bradley became Liverpool’s first Northern Irish player since 1954, a fact Klopp rolled off the tongue with relish afterwards; in front of him on the wing, Kaide Gordon was given a highly anticipated bow two weeks shy of his 17th birthday.
Although diminutive, Gordon looked strong and had sights of goal in either half. Bradley will learn from the barge on Dimitris Giannoulis, the third Greece representative on show, that earned Tzolis his shot at parity but otherwise looked composed. A third youngster, the midfielder Tyler Morton, impressed after replacing Naby Keïta for the second half.
“The kids did exceptionally well, I have to say,” Klopp said. “Maybe the biggest surprise was that they could go for 94 or 95 minutes. I’m really happy for them.”
The difference in attack was made by more experienced heads. Liverpool took the lead within four minutes when Tsimikas’s outswinging corner was nodded down by Divock Origi, making light of two seemingly featherweight markers, and latched on to by Takumi Minamino. The finish, cracked low through Angus Gunn’s legs, was the forward’s first meaningful touch of the season and set Liverpool fair.
Tsimikas continued to cause danger with a stream of inviting deliveries but Norwich improved and would have merited an equaliser if Tzolis, aiming down the middle but seeing Caoimhin Kelleher save his spot kick with an outstretched leg, had been on point. Pierre Lees-Melou spurned another good chance to level soon after the break and, almost immediately, Curtis Jones released Tsimikas for a deftly-chipped cross that Origi powered beyond Gunn.
With 10 minutes left, Minamino foraged through a series of non-existent challenges to squeeze home the third. “It was important for him and for us,” said Klopp, who was keen to point out a thigh injury has limited Minamino’s opportunities. “He’s in a really good moment, trained really well and deserved his two goals. Nobody has to worry, Taki will be fine.”
Whether or not Norwich will be is moot. “The fact we lost is not a fact I like,” Farke said. At least he will receive no more hard truths from Liverpool for the next few months.