After six home wins on the spin, we couldn’t make it seven in a row at St James’ Park today as title-chasing Liverpool came away with a comfortable win.
We started with real intensity about our play in the opening exchanges, pressing from the front and moving the ball quickly, but a 19th minute Naby Keita goal was followed by a classy and controlled display from Jurgen Klopp’s men.
We looked leggy, overwhelmed by Liverpool’s energy and out of ideas in the second half, struggling to keep the ball (or stay onside!) when we had it and being fortunate not to concede more as Dubravka pulled off several solid saves to keep it down to one.
Sometimes you have to just accept when you’ve been outclassed by a quality side – and this was one of those occasions, as Liverpool had almost 70% of the ball and 24 shots to our four.
In truth, it could and should have been more than 1-0, however we deserve credit for staying in the game – even if our stubbornness at one end was let down by a lack of spark in attack.
We had our moments early on and weren’t blown away by any stretch, however there was a clear gulf in class, as we struggled to get going in attack, had a tough job getting a grip of the game in midfield and didn’t quite tame a Liverpool front three who were constantly on the move.
The result means we stay 9th ahead of today’s 3pm kicks offs, although we could drop out of the top 10 if the likes of Leicester, Brighton, Brentford and Southampton win this weekend.
Eddie Howe made three changes from the side that beat Norwich 3-0 last weekend, seeing Fabian Schar, Jonjo Shelvey, Miguel Almiron replace Jamaal Lascelles, Sean Longstaff and Jacob Murphy.
(4-3-3): Dubravka – Krafth, Schar, Burn, Targett – Guimaraes, Shelvey, Willock – Almiron, Joelinton, Saint-Maximin.
SUBS: Darlow, Dummett, Lascelles, Manquillo, Ritchie, Longstaff, Murphy, Gayle, Wood.
Klopp also made changes, as Mo Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago and Fabinho were all left on the bench just a few days on from their Champions League semi final first leg with Villarreal.
We started with a real intensity about our play, committing bodies forward, pressing from the front and giving the Reds little time to settle on the ball.
They did have two half chances through Jota and Van Dijk, but both blazed over in an opening 10 minutes that gave fans inside St James’ Park real encouragement. This certainly didn’t feel like the best side in Europe against a team who were one of the favourites to go down just a few months ago!
That said, the Reds did grow into the game and, after a long period of possession, they struck first through Naby Keita.
It came just seconds after James Milner left Schar in a heap and way out of position, but they punished us as Jota slipped in Keita, who rounded Dubravka and fired past a sea of black and white shirts on the line. 1-0 Liverpool.
After a long spell without the ball, we were bringing the centre-backs up and throwing balls into the box whenever we won a free kick, yet that was almost our downfall on the 35th minute, as they turned the ball over, countered at pace and saw a Mane see a low shot well held by Dubravka after he was picked out well by Diaz.
Miguel Almiron then had the ball in the net a few moments later, however he was a couple of yards offside after being slipped in behind by Bruno. A poorly timed run in the end, but a sign Liverpool were leaving space in behind now they’d pushed up.
Another save then arrived from Dubravka, who tipped over Jota’s goal-bound header after the Portuguese international climbed highest from an inviting Henderson cross. With a Milner shot flashing just wide from the resulting corner, our defence finding it difficult to cope with the constant movement of Liverpool’s front three and our forward players struggling to keep a hold of possession, we needed to get into half-time at 0-1 and reset.
Thankfully, we did that, keep us in the game as we headed into a second half Howe had to nail if we wanted to keep the run of home results going!
We had to mix it up in this final 45, as we’d been too predictable and indecisive in possession. Easier said than done against such a top side, but we were often stuck in between committing bodies forward and protecting ourselves at the other end against a ruthless Liverpool attack who move the ball into the final third so quickly.
Schar was then forced off on the 60 minute mark, seeing Jamaal Lascelles come on for the Swiss international for the remaining half an hour. Based on the way he went down, it looked like he was still struggling to shake off that heavy tackle from Milner just seconds before the opening goal.
It should’ve been 2-0 moments later. Gomez burst past Joelinton, fired a low ball across the box and Mane shot wide of Dubravka’s near post. He had to score but didn’t, handing us a lifeline as we approached the final 25 minutes.
Chris Wood then came on, replacing Joe Willock in a move that saw Joelinton drop back into a midfield three, Saint-Maximin move to the left and the big Kiwi up top to give us a much needed presence in attack.
Klopp then responded with a few changes of his own, as Mane and Henderson made way for Salah and Fabinho. Such a double change only lifted Liverpool, who looked much more likely to make it 2-0 as we did to an equaliser, if the truth be told.
The Leazes End were on their feet as Wood was slipped in behind by Saint-Maximin, however the former Burnley striker saw Alisson smother his effort just before the offside flag was finally raised. A glimpse of goal and glimmer of hope, but it wasn’t long until Dubravka was forced into another good save as Jota stung the Slovakian’s palms.
With just 10 minutes remaining, we had nothing to lose and had to commit bodies forward in a bid to impose ourselves on a Liverpool side who’d cruised through this second half. Easier said than done against such a top side who had total control of the game, but the 52,000 inside St James’ Park would prefer to see us have a go and lose 2-0 than see out a narrow yet comfortable away win.
Howe took a step towards doing that as Jacob Murphy replaced Emil Krafth 85 minutes in, giving us fresh legs and pace down that right-hand side Robertson had dominated.
A rare sight of goal then came Bruno’s way, but the Brazilian’s low shot was held well by Alisson. It was just our second shot on target all game and was the closest we got in that final 45, as Liverpool saw out a comfortable 1-0 win to go back to the top of the Premier League.
Fair play to Liverpool. We’d have liked to dent their title hopes today, but Klopp rested a few key men and still saw his side win comfortably against a Newcastle side in their best form at St James’ Park for almost 20 years.
Next up for Newcastle, a trip to Man City a week tomorrow!