Liverpool will end 2020 three points clear at the top of the Premier League but were left frustrated after a goalless draw with Newcastle United on Wednesday.
Jurgen Klopp’s side monopolised possession and carved out the best opportunities at St James’ Park, but against a spirited Newcastle side a winner eluded them.
Liverpool’s front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane all had chances, only to find Karl Darlow in inspired form in the Newcastle goal.
It was the first 0-0 between the sides since 1974 and left Liverpool three points ahead of second-placed Manchester United having played a game more.
It ends level at St James’ Park.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 30, 2020
Newcastle began brightly as Callum Wilson glanced an early header wide and then outpaced Nathaniel Phillips but saw his goalbound shot from a tight angle blocked by Fabinho.
The Reds slowly found their rhythm and Salah beat the Newcastle offside trap, yet Darlow was sharp off his line to narrow the angle and superbly push the ball wide.
The in-form Darlow produced another brilliant diving save to keep out Firmino’s header on the stroke of half-time.
Mane’s near-post header clipped the side netting moments after the interval, while Salah shot wide from a good position after he was released by Firmino shortly after the hour.
Klopp introduced fit-again midfielder Thiago Alcantara in the 73rd minute, but Liverpool needed goalkeeper Alisson to make a fine stretching save to claw away Ciaran Clark’s header from Matt Ritchie’s free-kick.
The Reds looked most likely to fine a winner late on and Fabian Schar hooked the ball off the line with Mane lurking with 10 minutes left.
However, Steve Bruce’s side rolled up their sleeves and Darlow made another late stop from Firmino to end a run of five consecutive defeats against Liverpool.
What does it mean? Reds face title scrap
Liverpool ended 2019 with a 13-point lead at the top after 19 games, but their advantage this time around – albeit having played four fewer matches – is much more slender.
The Reds ran away with the title last season, yet results such as these emphasise the challenge they face this term.
Newcastle clearly relish playing the champions at St James’ Park and are now unbeaten in their past five home Premier League games against reigning title holders (won two, drawn three).
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) December 30, 2020
Defiant Darlow denies Reds
Newcastle had failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their past 11 Premier League home games before this encounter.
That they managed to shut out the Premier League champions owed much to the performance of Darlow, who made four excellent saves and was a calming presence throughout.
Sadio struggles in the Toon
Mane had been directly involved in seven goals in his previous eight away top-flight matches (six goals, one assist) but was below his best here.
The Senegal forward failed to register a single shot on target and struggled to find his team-mates often enough, with his pass completion of 75.6 per cent the second-worst among all Liverpool players.
Liverpool begin 2021 with a trip to Southampton next Monday, while Newcastle play the day before when Leicester City are the visitors to St James’ Park.
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