Back on the pitch and back at Anfield, and yet the same old story for Liverpool. They should have won by six, but dropped more points after a stoppage-time equaliser.
Liverpool 1-1 Newcastle
Premier League, Anfield
Saturday 24 April, 2021
Goals: Salah 3′; Willock 90+5′
Return of the four
After a game (or more) rested apiece, or at least left on the bench before being brought on, Jurgen Klopp put all four of his big attacking talents into the line-up from kick-off this time.
Opinion has been split at times on whether the Reds should be playing this way, committing more to the attack or sticking with the 4-3-3 and more midfield control, and both sides of the argument were in evidence here.
Going forward, Liverpool carved the visitors apart a number of times, showed some great link play and created lots of openings. There was also evidence of a very aggressive high press in some areas, which yielded further chances on goal.
Defensively, though, Newcastle were able to make two quick, direct passes and suddenly be in themselves, making use of the open space and lack of midfield cover. They, too, should have scored some of their openings.
Individually the quartet went through spells of looking dangerous and being frustrating, with Mohamed Salah the best of them.
Diogo Jota, it must be said, had a largely stinking 58 minutes on the pitch in terms of his decision-making and execution in the dribble, the pass and the shot.
Three times a charm for Salah
Up until today, Liverpool had never had a player who had reached the 20-goal milestone in a Premier League season on three separate occasions – but now Mo Salah has done so.
A brilliant goal – unerring first touch, lighting turn, rocket of a finish – inside the opening couple of minutes of the game saw our No. 11 become the first to achieve the feat in this modern era, firmly underlining his status as one of the club’s best signings.
It’s now 123 goals in 198 games across all competitions for the Egyptian king with the Liver Bird on his chest.
In league terms he hit 32, 22 and now 20 (so far), with a 19-goal haul added for good measure last year.
A first-half goal but it could have been 10
After a whopping and ridiculous 10 straight matches at Anfield without the Reds scoring in the first half, Salah’s strike also ended that streak.
Sadio Mane against West Brom on 27 December was the previous time we’d managed it, but it really should have opened the floodgates.
Jota missed three incredible chances in the first half, one right foot, one left, another right. Sadio Mane missed a golden chance when Salah squared to him for a one-on-one finish, while Salah himself had another opening too and Trent smashed one over.
Jota and Mane had nine first-half shots between them, for no reward at all, highlighting their profligacy.
Roberto Firmino‘s chances came after the break, but the Reds should at least have had three by half-time, wrapping the points up early.
Second half? More of the same. Salah, Bobby and Trent twice all had openings, two or three times really good ones, and the continual misses, poor composure and awful execution ultimately cost two points.
In previous games, this season and before, the timing and the nature of the boss’ changes have been an area of discussion, sometimes even contention.
This time, bringing James Milner on for Jota first up, was arguably the exact right one needed, tactically and in terms of personnel.
As noted, the Portuguese forward had a bad day, but aso the spaces in midfield were causing havoc for the away side’s counters.
Going back to a 4-3-3 stemmed all that and put the Reds back in control, albeit with a little less chaotic cutting edge – but still the chances came.
The next sub cost Liverpool the match. Taking Thiago off was absurd, frankly; needing to retain the ball and still have the defensive aggression meant the No. 6 should have seen out the 90. Curtis Jones was fine on the ball, but hasn’t played at all in the past month or so.
If he was to be brought on, another forward should have been replaced. Or Wijnaldum. Anyone but the player who gave the Reds the total and absolute domination and stopped Newcastle pushing everyone up.
And then there were five
Next up, Man United – nothing needed further in terms of how big the game is. Even without fans, with neither winning the league and so on, it matters and should be played to win.
But now the Reds have basically no margin for error if a top-four finish is the ambition.
This should have been a win, piling pressure on West Ham and Chelsea ahead of their meeting later on, and the manner of the late collapse was a joke: no organisation, no reaction after their first, very fortuitously disallowed goal, no late extra sub to stick a third defender on or extra body to clear the bouncing balls, nothing.
Liverpool got what they deserved from this game for a lack of taking the chances presented to them at both ends of the pitch.
Champions League football now depends on a perfect run-in for the remaining five games.