Yesterday saw us earn a hard fought point against a dangerous Liverpool side at St James’ Park, seeing us bounce back from defeat to Brighton last time out.
Here’s four big positives we can take from the game:
A HUGE goal for Joselu
There were several fans calling for the Spaniard to be dropped prior this one, having missed several key chances against Stoke and Brighton in our previous two outings. Striker’s live and die on confidence in front of goal, and after his miss at Brighton and our defeat, you could see it was playing on his mind, becoming an issue that was only going to get worse until he put one away. He latched onto a superb Jonjo Shelvey through ball and managed to get that all important goal under his belt – even if he looked anything but assured when bearing down on goal.
With Gayle having looked out of sorts and dropping down the pecking and Mitrovic someone we have been unable to rely on in the past, it was huge to see Joselu grab another goal and one that was essential to give him that all important confidence boost, getting the monkey off his back from misses against Stoke and Brighton. You could see the relief in his celebration and I’m delighted for him. Hopefully he can kick on now.
Some big defensive displays
It was a real team effort yesterday, but there were two outstanding performers at the back fore me. DeAndre Yedlin and Jamaal Lascelles.
Yedlin was outstanding. He played with superb energy and tenacity, getting in Liverpool’s faces and making it difficult for the elusive Mane to ever really get into the game. The American’s speed and athleticism gives him that physical edge on so many and we’ve seen how effective he can be going forward, but I was so impressed by his defensive work.
Then to Lascelles. He has grabbed the plaudits for winning goals on two occasions in recent weeks, but it’s perhaps even more promising to see him praised for how well he defended. He made some vital blocks, was a towering presence at the back for us and put in a real captains performance. It wasn’t flashy or particularly eye catching, but that’s what we loved about him when he first broke onto the season at the back end of the 2015/16 season – he’s at his best when he just does the basics right, and he did exactly that yesterday.
Great to see Shelvey and Merino in the same team
Jonjo Shelvey looked like he was in for a big season after looking in tip top shape over pre-season. Since then, following his reckless red card against Tottenham, it has been Spanish gem Mikel Merino whose outshone the former Swansea man – who had been made to wait it out on the bench before returning to Rafa’s starting 11 after his ban.
It’d been a welcome boost to see Merino look so good in Shelvey’s absence, but yesterday saw the pair start together for the first time. It wasn’t a game where we had a great deal of possession, so their qualities on the ball weren’t showcased quite how we may have liked, however it was promising to see us put in a gritty and disciplined display whilst playing the talented duo together in a midfield two.
Shelvey put in a far more mature and measured display, showing signs that a partnership with Merino could work very well in weeks to come. It certainly has all the ingredients to be a very capable combination.
A team to be proud of
It wasn’t a thriller and we didn’t pepper Simon Mignolet’s goal with shots, but the effort, grit and determination we showed again that we have a team to be proud of. We dug in, ran ourselves into the ground and competed with a very talented Liverpool team.
As the famous saying states ‘we don’t demand a team that wins, we demand a team that tries’. If the majority of fans still stand behind this statement, I don’t think we’ll be left too disappointed this season.
Given Benitez’s style, it may not always be pretty this season. We won’t blow teams off the park or play possession football, but we’ll be hard to beat and give our all. As a newly promoted club that’s currently working on limited resources, there’s not much more we can ask than that.
It’s great to see a team that fights for the badge and the fans at St James’. We showed real character and long may that last.