Liverpool remain locked in the Premier League title race with Manchester City after both teams won their respective matches on Saturday. Manchester City had no major difficulties in overcoming Leeds United at Elland Road, while Liverpool returned from St. James Park with three points in the bag as well, having beaten Newcastle with the only goal being a work of art by Naby Keita.
The Liverpool consistency
The levels of consistency Jurgen Klopp instilled in his Liverpool team are amazing. With the exception of last season, when injuries severely hampered their efforts throughout, winning important matches has rarely come into question in the last four years. The results were the fact that Manchester City needed a near-perfect season to beat them to the title by a single point in 2018-19 while Liverpool still managed to win the Champions League, the fact that they convincingly won the Premier League in 2019-20, and the fact that they’re currently in with a reasonable chance of becoming the first English club ever to win the fabled ‘quadruple’.
This incredible quality was fully on show on Saturday. Newcastle are likely to become a great side themselves in a couple of years now that they have super-rich owners, but the team that they have now is far from a bad one. On top of that, they were on a four-win run going into this contest, and borne by the support from the jam-packed St. James Park, they put in a real effort to ruin Liverpool’s season at this crucial moment. But they simply couldn’t.
Liverpool had 67% possession and took a total of 24 shots, compared to Newcastle’s four. To maintain that level of control over the proceedings is a sign of great dominance in itself, but if you add the fact that it was a considerably rotated lineup Klopp named to start, it’s even more impressive. Four nailed-on starters for Liverpool, all players which give this team a special touch, were left on the bench. One of them is the Premier League’s leading goalscorer Mohamed Salah. Another, Trent Alexander-Arnold, leads the league for the number of assists. Thiago Alcantara is arguably the team’s most creative midfielder, and Fabinho is probably the least replaceable name of all, with no other designated defensive midfielder in the squad.
Keita, Milner, Schar and VAR
There was a bit of controversy with the situation that preceded Keita’s brilliantly taken goal. Newcastle had just defended nicely but the ball was won back for Liverpool by James Milner, who contested Fabian Schar for it. The play went on and it eventually reached Keita on the right flank. The Guinea international danced his way in, rounded the goalkeeper and whacked between the players in black-and-white shirts on the goal-line, straight into the net.
But Schar remained on the ground following the duel with Milner, and the VAR was therefore required to check the contact, with the possibility of the goal being ruled out hanging over Keita’s magic. But a close look at the thing revealed that Milner had actually got to the ball first, and the contact with Schar came as the Newcastle defender simply arrived a fraction of a second too late. Tough luck for Schar, particularly with the injury he picked up in mind, but there was no foul and the goal was rightly allowed to stand.
Schar, who just signed a two-year contract extension with Newcastle a couple of days ago, is now unlikely to feature against Liverpool’s title rivals Manchester City next week. Jamal Lascelles could come back into the side in his place, of Howe could alternatively shift Emil Krafth to a central defending role and bring back Kieran Tippier into the team. The former Tottenham Hotspur and Atletico Madrid right-back is on his way back from injury.
Not enough from Newcastle
The stats given above clearly show how overwhelmed the home side were in this match, and one thing was clear at the end; if you’re going to try and hurt this Liverpool side, you have to do much better than that.
Players like Bruno Guimaraes and Miguel Almiron, talented as they are, fought with everything they’ve got. It was clear to see that they are worthy weapons in Eddie Howe’s arsenal, but the way Liverpool players worked together to stop them time and again, and usually very far from Alisson Becker’s goal, was amazing.
Some of the Newcastle players started showing signs of frustration early. Two minutes before the break, Joelinton fouled Luis Diaz from behind in rather cynical way, showing a complete lack of idea what to do, and then reacted in anger towards Diogo Jota who had given him a slight shove. Naturally, the situation sparked a scuffle with both sets of players involved in numbers, and eventually, both Jota and Joelinton saw their names written down in the book of referee Andre Marriner. Near the end, Joelinton was lucky to escape a second booking when he deliberately mowed Jota down from behind, stopping a potentially dangerous moment for his team.
All in all, it was a well-deserved victory for the Reds, Howe admitted as much after the game, praising the quality of Klopp’s team. Klopp in turn spoke spoke in bright words about Newcastle and the atmosphere at St. James Park.
And while the Magpies prepare to take on the defending champions, both City and Liverpool are now looking at their midweek fixtures, the small matters of facing the likes of Real Madrid and Villarreal, respectively, in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal.
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