There have been games this season where we have been pushed to the very limits. Where we have had to squeeze every last bit of everything we have out of ourselves in order to gain the required result. There have been other games where we have strolled to victory. There have been games when we have practically cantered to three points and barely had to break a sweat. When Newcastle rolled into Anfield on Saturday it was never going to be an easy game considering the man in the away dugout. He made sure we set up that way during his time in Jurgen Klopp’s seat, yet it was a game we should still be winning, maybe at a canter.
Jurgen Klopp continued with Loris Karius in goal, rightly so given the German’s performances as of late. The back four were largely unchanged apart from the interchanging of Dejan Lovren for Joel Matip. Jordan Henderson was also reintroduced to the fold in place of the heroic James Milner, joining Emre Can and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the middle of the park. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane started up front together looking to terrorise another unfortunate defence.
Rafa Benitez retured to Anfield looking to save his new side from relegation and did so with new goalkeeper Martin Dubravka between the sticks. Paul Dummett, Jamaal Lascelles and Florian Lejeune made up a three-man central defence flanked by Kenedy and DeAndre Yedlin. Mohamed Diame and Mikel Merino started in the centre of midfield, while Christian Atsu, Jacob Murphy and Dwight Gayle made up an attacking triumvirate.
Liverpool began the game in control and had their first real chance within six minutes of the kick off. Trent Alexander-Arnold crossed in from the right and it looked likely that Lascelles would clear easily. However, the Newcastle skipper completely miscued his header and the ball dropped to Mane in the six-yard box. Mane had not anticipated such a mistake from Lascelles though and the ball bounced off his knee. He tried to recover but Lascelles was able to do so first and cleared from danger. Ten minutes later Liverpool were in again. Andy Robertson played a ball over the top to Mo Salah, who had drifted across field from the right wing. He looked like he was going to control the ball twenty yards from goal on the corner of the area. Instead, he swivelled and hit a first-time volley towards goal which Dubravka tipped onto the post.
Liverpool were controlling the play and hadn’t even got out of third gear, a theme that would recur throughout the game. Newcastle offered little going forward, but on the rare occasion they did venture out of their own half they were met with a Dutch wall. Virgil Van Dijk was making sure he was in the way of every ball that came towards the Liverpool goal whether it was on his side of the defence or not. He won every 50/50, every tackle, every header, everything. He was simply impassable.
As the half petered out it was beginning to look unlikely that the deadlock would be broken – that was until the fortieth minute.
Mohamed Salah had already spurned a golden opportunity earlier in the half when he took too many touches in front of goal when he should have shot, but he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain won the ball in the midfield and drove forward towards the Newcastle area. Roberto Firmino ran across his path, drawing Paul Dummett across with him. This created acres of space for Oxlade-Chamberlain to slip in the unmarked Salah. He took one touch out of his feet before sliding through the legs of Dubravka to put Liverpool ahead. It was a lead deserved on the run of play but was put under threat before half time.
Newcastle came forward on the stroke of half time and Mohamed Diame found himself running onto the ball on the edge of the area. He hit it first time towards the top corner of Karius’ goal and it looked like the ‘keeper was beaten all ends up. He managed to throw himself across the goal though and spectacularly palm the ball over the bar. It was another example of how Liverpool have upgraded since bringing Karius in for Simon Mignolet. The referee blew the whistle not long after to send Liverpool in deservedly ahead.
When play resumed after the break both sides reassumed their roles. After five minutes of dominance it paid off again. Firmino, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Emre Can linked up superbly in the middle of the pitch and Firmino eventually ran at the Newcastle defence, looking for a pass or a run. Mane decided to make the run across Firmino, giving him a ball. Firmino obliged and Mane was now clean through, fifteen yards from goal. He took one touch away from Lascelles before firing into the bottom corner of the Kop goal, beyond Dubrvka, to double our lead. Liverpool were 2-0 up and hadn’t even broken a sweat.
Liverpool’s dominance continued after the goal. Newcastle’s ineptitude at dealing with crosses should have seen us score more goals. Ten minutes after going 2-0 up Liverpool had a corner. It was swung into the back post and Lovren won the header. It fell down to Firmino but he was unable to poke home and Newcastle managed to scramble it clear. It was the latest aerial warning which Benitez’s men hadn’t heeded. Our ability to threaten from corners showed that we have added more strings to our bow lately. We now have an ability to attack the opposition in a number of ways and hurt them too.
With plenty of time left in the game for more goals Liverpool pushed forward yet Newcastle were frustrating us. In the final minute of stoppage time a long ball was played forward to Salah. He ran onto it and seemed to have left Lascelles in his wake. He was bearing down on goal and looked like he was about to make it 3-0 and take his place atop the Premier League goalscoring charts. However, Lascelles managed to get back and push Salah in the back. The Egyptian King went down for what appeared a clear penalty, but Roger East waved play on before blowing the full-time whistle moments later.
On the face of it this was a routine 2-0 win for Liverpool against a side much inferior to us. But if you look at the game a little deeper you see what this really was. This was a show of class from a side that is developing into something special game on game. This was us exerting our class onto another team and beating them without even having to shift out of second gear. This was a game that we would have drawn, or possibly even lost this time last year, but that the result was never in doubt over. This was as big for the fans as it was for the players. There was no panic, no anxiety, no berating. Everybody inside Anfield knew what would happen eventually – that Liverpool would inevitably win.