Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool side struggled to create any rhythm in a disjointed display at St. James’ Park. Switching form a 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 later in the game, they eventually fell to a 2-0 defeat.
James Milner spoke about Klopp’s tactics prior to the game commenting:
“He sets us up differently every game and we know the game plan from there and how we’re going to press and when we’re going to press. Tactics change game to game.”
When informed of Milner’s comments and asked to expand on them, Klopp sported his usual grin and said “Did he say that I won’t tell it to the public, and especially [not] to television stations?”
When the game began it became clear that the system will have been at the forefront of Milner’s mind pre-match, as the versatile workhorse operated on the left of the three in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The tactics were almost identical to the those used when the side travelled to Rubin Kazan for their Europa League fixture early in November.
Ibe took up a position wide on the right, using his pace, trickiness, and new-found confidence to run at the defence whenever the opportunity arose. Despite his direct efforts, his final decision was often poor.
The wide pair swapped after around 25-minutes, and again at the start of the second half. They would occasionally drop back when the side were defending to give the formation more of a 4-4-1-1 feel.
Roberto Firmino drifted around Christian Benteke, working the channels and occasionally joining him up front, but the Brazilian – Belgian combination wasn’t on the same wavelength. By the time the two of them were subbed on the hour, they’d completed just one pass combination.
Of the deeper midfield pair, Joe Allen, making his first league start of the season, would venture forward when Liverpool were attacking. The Welshman helped his side make the transition from defence to attack, and filled the hole left by Firmino once the attacking midfielder had joined the front line.
Lucas manned the fort in front of the back four as usual but would also venture forward on carefully selected occasions, as has been his wont since his revival under Klopp.
Steve McClaren sent out a Newcastle side containing a dynamic looking midfield in an attempt to match the much talked about pressing systems used by Klopp, and said before the game that “when we check the stats, we need to make sure we’ve outrun Liverpool” – which they did (by a marignal 1km overall).
Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge entered the fray on the hour mark, and the system changed to a 4-3-3 / 4-1-4-1, as shown below.
But the team remained disjointed, and conceded a goal shortly after this change which typified the lack of cohesion on display throughout the afternoon.
The shield in front of the back four disappeared as players were drawn to the ball on the left, and even though the end result was a deflection into the goal off Martin Skrtel, the move could have been broken up earlier.
Newcastle doubled their lead late in the game when they counter-attacked a Liverpool side who were pushed up-field in search of an equaliser.
Even though Klopp’s men could have had a couple of goals – Benteke skied a good chance over the bar and Alberto Moreno saw a goal wrongly disallowed for offside – the team looked a lot less fluid than in recent weeks.
Klopp commented after the game:
“We were not good enough today, and I don’t know why. I have to think about this, I have to see it again, I have to analyse this game and then know more about it.
“It was hard work, it was clear but it should not be this [much] hard work because we could do better to play much more football. We didn’t do it. We played no counter-pressing, pressing was not good.
“Newcastle didn’t only play long balls they [were] playing build-up, but we were not there, we were not compact enough.”
They’ll hope to learn from this defeat as they head towards an important set of fixtures against similar opposition, and while it may not be a case of going back to the drawing board, the tactics board may need a subtle tweak here and there.