Match Review: Newcastle 1-2 Liverpool
Dramatic stuff… Mind-blowing stuff… Tactical brilliance stuff… EPL classic stuff…
Up to you to choose the term that best describes this gob-smacking match which saw a 10-men Liverpool snatching it in the last 10 minutes after having been on the ropes for much of the game.
We all know about the Premier League classics between those 2 teams at the end of the 1990s when we were served with two 4-3 games in consecutive seasons. This Sunday encounter deserves to be elevated into the same pantheon.
Even in his post-match interview, a beaming Jurgen Klopp could not conceal his impatience for his grandson to grow old enough to understand footy so that he can tell the story of this game to the lad.
How on earth did Liverpool turn this around against a recently resurgent Newcastle which is now Top 4 material? This will probably be talked about ad-infinitum from now thereon.
Masterminding such a successful new game plan to adapt to the 28th-minute sending-off of captain Virgil van Dijk will even get a nod of approval from Rafa Benitez, probably the most tactically astute manager we’ve had this century.
Right from the get-go, it was pretty evident Trent Alexander-Arnold would be riled up by fellow but blue scouser Anthony Gordon. Effectively, in the 6th minute, the ex-Evertonian barged him to the ground in a style more frequently seen in Hockey Night in Canada than in football.
After the Scouser in our Team had consequently slid off the pitch like Bambi on ice, he threw the ball back in the play area for things to resume. Astonishingly, ref John Brooks showed him yellow for that while Gordon escaped unpunished for his hockey-style indiscretion.
From that moment on, Trent was treading on eggshells, and no wonder his game was affected.
Newcastle exploited such psychological shackles on our right back to open the score on the 25th.
Our vice-captain probably took his eyes off a back pass from Mo Salah and the same Gordon nicked the ball from him before swiftly sprinting to a one-on-one with Alisson Becker. He made no mistake by slotting the ball between our keeper's legs.
Sod’s Law strikes
To add insult to injury, worse was to come a mere 3 minutes later. A Gordon through ball found Alexander Isak on the brink of offside and the Swede tumbled to the ground under a challenge of van Dijk just outside the box.
A contentious red card to VVD for the Red camp. In his action to sweep the ball away from the Newcastle striker, our captain could hardly avoid clipping Isak’s ankle which just happened to be in the way.
If the Reds were incensed, they still managed to gradually regroup and keep a certain level of composure to hang in there.
In this fixture last season Ali made a handful of defining saves so as to earn the 3 points for the team. This time on the 36th, he blocked a goal-bound rocket of a volley from Miguel Almiron so as to ensure no more damage was inflicted. Preventing a 2-nil down turned out to be a pivotal contribution in the final reckoning.
In the meanwhile, Joelinton was going gung-ho with barging Liverpool players to the ground. At least three times but just like Gordon with Trent earlier, it seems those are not even worthy of a yellow in the books of ref Brooks…
It was an uncharacteristic Liverpool that emerged after the break. They were mostly absorbing the pressure and left the initiative to Newcastle.
Nothing noteworthy at all from the Reds for the first 10 minutes of the second half. One might have even wondered if such an apparent lack of ambition indicated Liverpool were just content to run down the clock and limit the final damage to a one-goal deficit.
Calming it way down
But it turned out to be the tactic in their attempt to spin the situation around: gradually grow back into the game by re-gaining confidence while being one man short. Focus on controlling the proceedings by not losing possession, avoid sloppy passes, leave it to the home side to knock at the door and get frustrated against a compact defensive side.
Then try something once the opposition has tired legs and minds, perceivably once ripe for the taking. We have the most extensive striking power in the league after all.
The wheels were effectively set in motion for that on the 58th with the introduction of Diogo Jota and Harvey Elliot for Cody Gakpo and Wataru Endo.
The Portuguese was the catalyst for the Merseysiders to finally come out of their shell and on the 60th minute we saw the first meaningful Liverpool foray of the second half.
On a counter-attack, Jota was sent through by Dominik Szoboszlai with plenty of space down the left for him to exploit. Unfortunately, his cross to Salah was intercepted into a corner.
On the 67th, Jota this time found Salah with a through ball but the Egyptian King’s attempt to chip the Geordie keeper was blocked by Sven Botman.
Two decent chances for a 10-men Liverpool in less than 10 minutes. They must have sensed something in the air.
If Virgil van Dijk is said to have been the final piece of the jigsaw that completed the all-conquering Klopp’s Liverpool side of late, the same can be labelled to the 77th minute introduction of Darwin Nunez to finally turn this game around.
The Uruguayan did not take long to inflict chaos among the Magpies. A mere three minutes later, Jota tried to send through our Number 9 down the right flank and Botman clumsily messed up his attempt to get the ball as our striker was lurking not far away.
Nunez said thank you very much and sped down before drilling a right-footed shot past Nick Pope.
Come back accomplished. Given the circumstances, we would have been happy if Liverpool closed down shop and left St James’ Park with one point.
But it was more of the game on for the players in Red and they delivered even better on the 93rd: Newcastle lost possession in midfield (told you about the importance of sloppy passes earlier on) and the ball rebounded on Harvey Elliot to Salah who fed Nunez down the right flank again for an identical right-footed strike past Pope.
Just like the 4-3 games in the 1990s, lightning has again struck twice in this fixture. Bolts of lightning called Darwin Nunez this time. Klopp will now have an enviable headache while selecting the strikers for next weekend’s Aston Villa match.
A pandemonium of celebrations ensued on the Liverpool bench and among the traveling Kopites all the way up there in the away section. We’ve been taken on yet another roller-coaster ride of emotions that only Liverpool Football Club knows how to dish out to its supporters time and again.
Not surprisingly, a jubilant Klopp duly celebrated with his characteristic fist bumps for the first time this season.
Mentality Monsters stuff.