Monday, June 17, 2024

Newcastle 0-2 Liverpool: Talking points as Merseysiders sneak within sight of top four

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Liverpool returned from facing Newcaslte at St. James’ Park with new three points on Saturday, courtesy of early goals from Darwin Nunez (10′) and Cody Gakpo (17′). Newcastle goalkeeper Nick Pope earned a straight red card five minutes after the second goal, making his team’s task of getting back into the contest extremely difficult and ultimately unachievable.

Liverpool’s expensive signings start flickering

Plenty has been said about Nunez and his wastefulness in front of goal. The former Benfica striker, who joined Liverpool last summer for €100m (providing all the add-ons are triggered), has been displaying smart movement and a tendency to get into goalscoring positions quite frequently, but his finishing left a lot to be desired. It should be said that his return of 10 goals in all competitions going into this game isn’t bad at all for his first season at the club and in the Premier League, but there’s no denying that his tally would’ve been a lot better had he been more composed in a number of situations throughout the campaign so far.

Meanwhile, Gakpo was perceived by some to be struggling for the first six games he played for Liverpool after joining from PSV Eindhoven for a reported fee of close to €45m, but he suddenly opened his account against Everton last week and made it two goals in the last two matches by setting the final score against the Magpies.

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Nunez and Gakpo won’t have silenced their critics just yet, of course; that will take a number of goals to come regularly over a prolonged period, but getting their names on the scoresheet in such an important game as this will surely have lifted their confidence. And not a moment too soon, with Liverpool needing to fight for every point they can get between now and the end of the season.

Newcastle look different without Guimaraes

Newcastle signed Bruno Guimaraes in January 2022 from Olympique Lyon for about the same fee as Liverpool paid for Gakpo, and the Brazilian midfielder has become their arguably most important player over the short year that has passed since. His playmaking skill has been vital in what has so far been their best season in a long time, aided by his four goals and three assists in 24 appearances in all competitions in his preferred role in the middle of the park.

The 25-year-old was, however, unavailable for selection to manager Eddie Howe, this game being the third and final part of the suspension he earned for getting sent off in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semifinal against Southampton. The good news for Howe and the Magpies is that he will be available to play in the final against Manchester United next week.

But during this match, Guimaraes was restricted to watching from the stands as his teammates fought with everything they had, lacking that decisive creativity to make something happen. Not that they didn’t have their chances, but those were mostly the consequence of the Liverpool defence still looking shaky, not to mention sleepy at times.

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There is a feeling that we would have seen a different game with Guimaraes on the pitch, but Newcastle must learn not to rely too much on one player in big games if they want to get any closer to the top of the league.

Liverpool are not back yet

This victory means a great deal for Liverpool’s hopes of playing in the Champions League again next season, and it’s surely a boost for their confidence, winning for the second time in a row, but this is still not the team it was over the last couple of seasons. As has been said, the back line, boosted by the return of Virgil van Dijk from injury, still left a lot to be desired as Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron caused them all sorts of problems.

It took a world-class performance of Alisson Becker in goal for the visitors to keep a clean sheet and avoid potential late excitements. The fact that the Brazil international was Liverpool’s best performer on the pitch is still pretty worrying, and there’s plenty of work to be done for Klopp and his staff in that aspect.

On the other hand, it’s a great encouragement that Liverpool finally managed to identify a way to hurt their opposition and took advantage of it. Both goals came as a result of a nicely weighed pass from the right flank into the centre-forward area, first with Trent Alexander-Arnold finding Nunez, and later Salah recording a fine assist for Gakpo.

Klopp seems pretty grounded when answering questions about his team being back where they should be.

I don’t think we are in a position now where we can have a big mouth and say, ‘We are here and go again.’ It is obvious we are in a better place than we were a couple of weeks ago but there’s still space for improvement and we have to show consistency,” the German tactician said after the game.

The standings

These points have now lifted Liverpool to eighth place, but more importantly, they’re now within sight of Newcastle, who still occupy that final top-four spot. The gap between them is six points, but Liverpool have a game in hand and if they can achieve some stability, they could really come into that race again very quickly.

From their point of view, the shocking win of bottom-sitters Southampton at Stamford Bridge will have been received as excellent news, keeping Chelsea four points behind with one game played more. There’s still Brighton, Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur to overtake, however.

As for Newcastle, they seemed very likely to qualify for the Champions League next season for a long time, but their failure to beat Crystal Palace, West Ham and Bournemouth in the previous three league matches has not only allowed Manchester United to overtake them and build a five-point gap, and that’s before the Red Devils face Leicester City on Sunday at Old Trafford, but it has also enabled the teams below, including Liverpool, to come closer. The fact that they play Manchester City at the Etihad nextin the league doesn’t bode too well either.

But before that, the Magpies will have a chance to fight for the first major trophy since 1955 as they face Manchester United in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday next. That contest will provide former Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius with a chance to rebuild his confidence when it comes to major finals, after the shambles of the 2018 Champions League final – the last competitive match he played for Liverpool.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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