Newcastle United played host to title-chasing Liverpool in the round before last of the 2018/19 season in the Premier League.
The Magpies’ position was secure; sitting 14th but a huge 11 points above the relegation zone, they were quite safe. They also had no chance of reaching a European spot, so they were in fact as comfortable as possible.
Liverpool, on the other hand, had to make sure they kept up the pressure on title holders Manchester City, with any hope they have of pipping them to it clinging desperately on winning every game for the rest of the season and City dropping points somewhere.
Former Liverpool boss, now in the Newcastle dugout of course, Rafa Benitez was without long-term absentees, defender Florian Lejeune and midfielders Miguel Almiron and Sean Longstaff, as well as defender DeAndre Yedlin who picked up a groin problem.
Martin Dubravka was in goal. Fabian Schar, Jamaal Lascelles and Paul Dummett formed the back three. Isaac Hayden and Sung-Yeung Ki played in the middle of the park,flanked by former Liverpool player Javier Manquillo and Matt Ritchie as the wing-backs, while Ayoze Perez and Christian Atsu supported Salomon Rondon upfront.
The current Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp wasn’t able to count on midfielder Naby Keita, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season following an unsporting tackle from behind by Ivan Rakitić in the Reds’ 3-0 defeat at the hands of Barcelona in midweek. However, midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had missed almost the entire season, was back in contention.
Forward Roberto Firmino picked up a muscle issue ahead of the visit to Nou Camp and played only 10 minutes there. This time Klopp left him out of the squad altogether and admitted that his participation in the rematch against Barcelona wasn’t looking likely.
Alisson Becker stood between the posts. Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren, flanked by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, formed the defensive wall infront of the Brazil goalkeeper. Fabinho anchored the midfield, joined by Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum. The attacking line consisted of Daniel Sturridge, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
The First Half
As expected, Liverpool pushed forward from the start and took control of the game. The home side rarely got across the halfway line and after several wasted chances, the visitors took the lead in the 13th minute. A good corner by Alexander-Arnold found van Dijk completely unmarked on the edge of six yards and the centre-back slammed his header past Dubravka.
However, for all of Liverpool’s early domination, their lead didn’t last long. A poor backpass from Lovren started a string of sloppiness from the men in red, and Newcastle eventually took advantage. They won the ball and broke down the left through Ritchie who found Rondon in a great position to score and the striker hit the target. Alexander-Arnold stopped the ball on the goal-line with his arm and would have probably been sent off in addition to a Newcastle penalty if Atsu didn’t put it in the net.
Newcastle were hugely encouraged by the equalizer and they suddenly pushed forward. In the 25th minute, Perez almost turned the game around with a brilliant volley from close range that hit the bar.
But now it was Newcastle’s turn to concede against the run of play. The first time Liverpool broke through their siege, Alexander-Arnold produced another superb cross and found Salah this time, whose tidy finish from 10 yards was too much for Dubravka to deal with.
A sharp battle in the middle of the park was developing as Liverpool looked to re-establish control, and lacking a fairer tool, Newcastle players resorted to a few reckless tackles to show they wouldn’t be pushed around. But Liverpool created a great chance for Mane in the 33rd minute as Salah sent him in behind, but the Senegalese hit it straight at the well positioned Dubravka.
The visitors kept control for the rest of the half without major problems.
The Second Half
Just as they had at the start of the game, Liverpool tried to grab control after the restart too. They took possession and applied the usual patient approach, and for a long time it seemed they would be able to keep a firm hold of the proceedings and snatch the desired result.
But the home side wouldn’t just sit back and let the Merseysiders do what they like. Rondon first threatened from range but saw his shot saved by Alisson, before capitalizing on a corner poorly cleared by Liverpool and a clever headed pass by Manquillo to hit a powerful blast past Alisson and level the score once more in the 54th minute.
Liverpool tried to make sure they don’t let the title race escape their grasp and they went forward in search of a third goal straight away, but their possession now seemed very tame. Newcastle dropped back and defended with 10 men behind the ball, making it very hard for the Champions League semifinalists to find a way through.
Liverpool’s sloppy passing wasn’t helping their cause, and with just over an hour gone, Klopp tried to freshen his midfield up and give it some edge. He sent in Xherdan Shaqiri instead of Wijnaldum.
But two minutes later, just as it seemed their title push couldn’t get any more difficult, a cross inside the box got Salah competing for the ball with Dubravka, and the Newcastle goalkeeper caught the Egyptian on the head with his knee. After a long break in play, Salah was stretchered off the pitch to a standing applause of St. James Park. Divock Origi entered the fray.
With seven minutes remaining of the original 90, Klopp played his last card by pulling out Lovren, sending Fabinho into the back four, and introducing James Milner.
Not that there was much change in what was going on in the game, but it all unraveled in the 86th minute. Liverpool were awarded a free-kick wide on the right and Shaqiri delievered a superb in-swinging cross to the edge of six yards, where Origi managed to bounce his header off Lascelles and into the net.
Towards the end and all through the eight minutes of stoppage time, the Magpies tried to find another equalizer but the visitors held out.
Liverpool continue to show extreme levels of resilience in their title push. There has been a number of games they won in this fashion this season, never giving up, doing whatever it takes to bag the three points. Newcastle really tried to stop them, and nobody can point the finger at Rafa Benitez and accuse him for being too soft on his former club, but they simply didn’t have enough in their locker.
Liverpool have now overtaken Manchester City at the top of the table again with 94 points to their name, and Pep Guardiola’s team will feel the pressure when they welcome Leicester City on Monday evening. Whatever happens there, the title is now certain to be decided on Sunday, May 12th, the last day of the Premier League season.
NEWCASTLE: Dubravka 7, Lascelles 7, Schar 6.5 (90′ Muto N/A), Dummet 6.5, Manquillo 7, Hayden 7.5, Ki 7, Ritchie 7, Atsu 7, Perez 8, Rondon 7.5.
LIVERPOOL: Alisson 7, van Dijk 8, Lovren 6 (83′ Milner 7), Alexander-Arnold 7.5, Robertson 7.5, Fabinho 8, Henderson 7.5, Wijnaldum 6.5 (66′ Shaqiri 7.5), Mane 7.5, Salah 7.5 (73′ Origi 7), Sturridge 7.
GOALS: Van Dijk 13′, Atsu 20′, Salah 28′, Rondon 54′, Origi 86′.
YELLOW CARDS: Schar 45′, Milner 90′.
REFEREE: Andre Marriner.
DATE & VENUE: May 4, 2019, St. James Park, Newcastle upon Tyne.
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