Liverpool and Newcastle United opened the fifth round of the 2019/20 Premier League season by locking horns on Saturday lunch time at Anfield.
The hosts entered the clash on a high note, as the only team in the league to have recorded a 100% output by winning all of the opening four games. Newcastle, on the other hand, managed to record their only win so far in the game where they were least likely to – away to Tottenham Hotspur, so that may have served as something to draw inspiration from as they headed to Merseyside to play the reigning champions of Europe.
Still without the services of Allison Becker, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp revealed that it will be a while yet until the Brazilian goalkeeper recovers fully from the calf issue which forced him off in the first game of the season. Midfielder Naby Keita was also unavailable, though he is expected back in full training after the team’s Champions League exploits away at Napoli in a few days. Defender Nathaniel Clyne is a long-term absentee with an ACL injury. Klopp decided to shuffle his midfield and forward sections, which resulted in captain Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino both starting on the bench.
As before, Adrian replaced Alisson in goal. The back four remained unchanged from their previous outings, with Virgil van Dijk, wearing the captain’s armband, and Joel Matip flanked by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stepped in for Henderson, with Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum providing him with some cover in the middle of the park. Divock Origi also made the lineup, joined upfront by Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
Newcastle manager Steve Bruce had to make do without his arguably best midfielder Sean Longstaff, who was out with an ankle injury. He was also without Matt Ritchie (ankle), former Liverpool striker Andy Carroll, Allan Saint-Maximin, DeAndre Yedlin, Dwight Gayle and Florian Lejeune.
Recognizing the danger of Anfield, Bruce put five defender in front of goalkeeper Martin Dubravka: Fabian Schar, Jamaal Lascelles and Paul Dummett as the centre-backs, flanked by Emil Krafth and Jetro Willems. The midfield was also set up for a counterattacking approach, with former Liverpool player Jonjo Shelvey and Miguel Almiron in the central roles, and the pacey duo of Christian Atsu and Isaac Hayden out wide. The strength of Joelington was supposed to give the Liverpool defence the most to worry about.
The First Half
As expected, Liverpool took control of the match from the start, keeping most of the possession and pushing the visitors back, while the Magpies defended patiently and sought for counterattacking opportunities.
There was a slight worry for Klopp in the third minute as Origi stayed down following an awkward slide, but the Belgian proved capable of continuing.
But in the seventh minute, the news weren’t so good for the home side. Atsu did well to avoid an offside trap and held the ball up, before engaging Willems on the left. The fullback cut inside and blasted his shot past Alexander-Arnold, beating Adrian and finding the far top corner.
The home side tried to respond to this early shock quickly, and Oxlade-Chamberlain broke through the middle and took a low, powerful shot that just missed the target. But if Newcastle started the game defensively, it was nothing compared to how they were playing after the goal. They constantly had nine outfield players behind the ball, and forced Liverpool to either go wide or look for set-pieces to threaten Dubravka. But neither approach worked and they simply could create a proper chance.
Newcastle made problems for themselves a few times by trying to play out from the back and getting themselves cornered, but they always somehow managed to survive.
After 20 minutes, Liverpool were starting to show nerves, which suited the visitors fine. A long pass caught Joelington offside, after which the Magpies’ striker provoked an angry reaction from Adrian.
Three minutes later, Liverpool finally started to get into promising positions. First Lascelles had to save his team from Origi, before Alexander-Arnold squared the ball dangerously into the six yards. And then, Salah won a corner which resulted in a strong penalty appeal as Lascelles obviously pulled Matip down from behind. It remains unclear how and why VAR failed to react, but nothing could stop the reaction from Liverpool that followed.
Minute 28 was running when Robertson broke past Krafth down the left and employed Mane in the box. The Senegalese moved inside and blasted the ball into the far top corner.
Just as the opening goal gave Newcastle some belief, so the equalizer seemed to have squeezed it out of them. They looked completely content to only sit in front of Dubravka, but they didn’t look all that confident in their defending anymore.
But after 35 minutes, Origi went down again and required medical assistance. This time he wasn’t able to recover, and Roberto Firmino came on in his place.
It took the Brazilian just a few minutes to significantly impact the game. Matip dispossessed Atsu in the middle of the park and Firmino picked the ball up, suddenly releasing Mane in behind the Newcastle defence. Dubravka came out only to make a mess of things, and allowed Mane to calmly place the ball into the empty net.
With the things now right from a Liverpool’s perspective, it was now their turn to take the tempo slightly down as the end of the opening half approached. They still kept the ball under control, and rarely allowed the Magpies to cross the halfway line.
The Second Half
The visitors came out a bit more after the break, and they spent a minute or two in Liverpool’s half during which they had a corner, but nothing came of it. Liverpool quickly reminded them of the dangers of such an approach at Anfield through Wijnaldum, whose cunning half-volley from a yard inside the box just missed the top corner. A quick altercation followed, and the ball moved quickly from one end to the other.
Bruce appeared to have instructed Fabian Schar to occasionally join Joelington in attack and offer himself as an additional target for long passes and crosses, but from another attempt at provoking Adrian, there wasn’t anything he could do against either Matip or Van Dijk.
In the 56th minute, Liverpool suddenly took advantage of Newcastle’s slightly more adventurous approach and Firmino set up Alexander-Arnold for a good chance, but Dubravka stopped the fullback’s effort from a tight angle. Alexander-Arnold returned the favor in the next move as his cross almost found Firmino on the six-yard line, but Schar reacted well.
As the game progressed, the visitors’ forays forward were becoming few and far apart, and not by their own choice. Liverpool were turning up the volume, and for a while the Magpies were hard pressed to defend against a third goal.
A similar situation was repeated on the hour-mark and this time Firmino managed to send a header on target, but Dubravka was alert. It was then the Brazilian’s turn to try and act provided as he squared the ball from the left for the incoming Salah, but the Egyptian’s shot was blocked. Next it was Robertson who almost benefited from Firmino’s creativity, but as he broke into the six yards from the left his effort drifted past the far post.
In the 67th minute, Bruce withdrew Almiron and Krafth, and sent on Muto and former Liverpool fullback Javi Manquillo.
Two minutes later, Hayden’s late challenge on Mane gave Alexander-Arnold a chance to whip in a cross from deep. Van Dijk returned the ball from the far post across and past Dubravka, but the quickest to react was Lascelles.
However, with 20 minutes to go, Salah managed to win the ball of Lascelles and enabled his team to attack again. Eventually, the Egyptian charged through the middle, passed to Firmino and kept running. The Brazilian brilliantly disguised his return pass as he flicked it back into the path of the fully sprinting Salah who broke through the defence and slotted past Dubravka.
With a two-goal lead now in place, Klopp anticipated a tougher fight in the middle of the park and introduced James Milner instead of Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose long injury absence still leaves him a bit short on match form.
Liverpool continued attacking and circling the box, but their momentum was interrupted in the 79th minute when Schar and Hayden both stayed down injured. Bruce had no choice but to spend the last substitution at his disposal by sending in Federico Fernandez instead of Schar, while Hayden had to endure the remainder of the match.
The competitive edge seemed to have vanished from the game as Liverpool still kept the ball and the game under their control, but neither team seemed really bothered if there would be another goal or not. In the 84th minute, Klopp gave Xherdan Shaqiri a run-out in a midfield role, as Wijnaldum made his way towards the bench.
Three minutes later, Firmino produced another piece of magic and and sent Salah through, but Lascelles and Dummett reacted well. Alexander-Arnold was still able to shoot on the follow-up, but Dubravka made a fine save. Less than 60 seconds were gone since when Firmino set Mane up for a tap-in and the Senegalese delivered, but the Brazilian was rightly ruled offside.
The introduction of Milner and Shaqiri brought back some of Liverpool’s energy in the middle and they looked very motivated in the three minutes of injury time, despite the lead that was now unassailable. However, the scoreline remained unchanged.
Apart from the obvious, there’s very little to be said about this game. As expected, Liverpool won comfortably despite an early shock. Anfield has once again proven itself a fortress. The current home of the Champions League trophy is still a place where nobody comes to win. The Reds went to a five-point lead at the top of the table on the final whistle, awaiting the results from elsewhere to see if it would hold after the round was over.
Steve Bruce shouldn’t be too hard on his men. Well, most of them to be more precise. There were a few individuals who, perhaps, could have gotten involved more, but overall, the Magpies mostly gave a good account of themselves. They probably didn’t hope to come away with anything, and they probably won’t be feeling like they’ve lost anything. They were 16th on the final whistle, though that area of the Premier League table was so tight that a lot can change next week.
LIVERPOOL: Adrian 7, Van Dijk 8.5, Matip 8, Alexander-Arnold 7, Robertson 7, Fabinho 7, Wijnaldum 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 5.5 (75′ Milner N/A), Mane 8.5, Salah 7.5, Origi 6.5 (37′ Firmino 9).
NEWCASTLE: Dubravka 7, Schar 7.5, Lascelles 7.5, Krafth 6, Dummet 6.5, Willems 7, Shelvey 6.5, Almiron 6.5, Atsu 6.5, Hayden 4, Joelington 5.
GOALS: Willems 7′, Mane 28′, 40′, Salah 72′.
YELLOW CARDS: None.
REFEREE: Andre Marriner.
DATE & VENUE: September 14, 2019, Anfield, Liverpool.