Heading up to Merseyside on Saturday morning, with a bit of a whiskey hangover, I wasn’t full of optimism. I suppose thats a fairly typical day in the life of a Newcastle fan. I think, against a side in their absolute prime like Liverpool are right now, a positive outlook is hoping the goal difference isn’t embarrassingly large, and to see some signs in our team of hope for future games.
Further to the news that Sean Longstaff had injured his ankle in training this week, the team lineup showed Jonjo Shelvey back in the starting eleven, with Atsu in for the injured ASM on the left and Jetro Willems behind him. It was a beautiful day and the Newcastle fans were in, as ever, good spirits as we piled through the turnstiles and up into the stands.
The away end were rewarded for their dedication only seven minutes into the game, when a lovely ball from Atsu was sent to Willems. Alexander-Arnold was there but Willems moved the ball onto his right and sent it straight past Adrian into the top right of the net. The away end went absolutely crackers, and my whiskey hangover swiftly turned into a whiskey headache – help! Though, if we continued like that I would happily have let the seven orang-utans playing bongos on my temples continue.
It took our goal for Liverpool to sort of come alive. By about the twenty minute mark, they had started pressing our defence quite hard and Newcastle weren’t able to create any chances. It’s worth noting that, particularly in the first half hour, Newcastle’s defence were working very hard. Lascelles and Dummett both scuppered chances Liverpool had to equalise, but we just couldn’t get the ball back up the pitch on the break. Unfortunately the relentless pressing of our defence got the better of us at the 28 minute mark, and Sadio Mane shot a perfectly executed equaliser into our goal.
Firmino came on for Origi, and we’re only minutes out of the half time whistle when Mane put Liverpool ahead with his second goal – and what a sloppy goal it was. Atsu attempted some footwork far too close to the box, and Firmino easily took the ball. Dubravka came out to scoop the ball up, but it came off him and Mane simply tapped it in to the goal. A very disappointing end to the first half.
I don’t know what goes on in the changing room at half time, but credit to Newcastle, who didn’t seem cowed by the scoreline as they came out for the second half. We weren’t necessarily getting better, but still attempting to press the Liverpool side as best they could. Fabian Schar had a lovely second half, working extremely hard on the right to keep Liverpool from increasing their goal difference. As with the first half, it took Liverpool ten minutes or so to get back into their stride, but once they did we were back to playing very defensive football.
A third goal from Mo Salah showed why this Liverpool side is one of the best in the world right now. He brought the ball near the box, sent it to Firmino who flicked it back easily. With Dubravka pulled slightly out, Salah cleanly sent the ball into the back of the net, and Liverpool were 3-1 up. The goal left Fabian Schar splayed on the ground – he received treatment but continued on. After that goal, it seemed pretty much over for Newcastle – Liverpool were running down the clock and not pressing too hard on our (now VERY TIRED) defence. Schar went down again a little later and the away fans crossed their fingers that this is not yet another long term injury to blight our squad.
Ultimately, this was Steve Bruce’s Mags against the Champions of Europe. Nobody went to Anfield expecting a revolution, to break Liverpool’s excellent home form. We saw flashes of brilliance – Willems’ goal was excellent – but there’s still a lot of work to do. Almiron and Joelinton struggled to come together, which is a worry. By the end of the day, I’m so tired, and can only imagine how our back five are feeling. Brighton next week will be absolutely vital to our Premier League campaign.