Newcastle United 0-1 Liverpool
St. James’ Park, Premier League
Saturday 30 April, 2022
Goals: Keita 18′
Rotation outside the chosen 14
Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a notable and very normal narrowing of the starting options, with Klopp basically picking from around a group of 14 or so players to be the starters.
Take whichever ones you want as the ‘strongest’ XI but it has been Matip or Konate, Keita or Henderson, Diaz or Jota as the big choices to make each time, give or take the odd surprise inclusion.
The No7 was of course involved in the goal with a massive (and brilliant and well-timed) tackle to start it all, while Gomez delivered one rubbish cross to three really good ones, while also barely skipping a beat defensively.
Overall Milly had his best game in quite some time – the MOTM award on UK TV was maybe a bit much – and our stand-in right-back was very useful throughout, with one darting run into the box on the overlap seeing him beat two defenders and square brilliantly for what should have been a Mane tap-in.
Klopp’s management of the best squad ever
Whatever about the individual players – how about the boss’ constant use of them?
It’s a fine balance to strike at the best of times between the best side and the fittest one, keeping those in-form in the team and resting those who need a break at the right time.
Now, though, every single match counts. There’s no scope to take gambles or get the big calls wrong, yet all those on the fringes of the team have to be kept engaged, sharp, ready to be called upon with the right mentality.
Klopp and his coaches have handled this situation superbly so far and there’s no reason to think that will change.
Everyone wants to be involved and there might be disappointment when they are not, but the competition for places is working in the right way by increasing performance level and team spirit.
Year of the Naby
It has taken a long time – too long let’s be honest – to see this level of Naby Keita performance on a regular basis, uninterrupted by injury, management of physicality or any other reason.
Right now though, he’s pretty much just the joint-third midfielder along with Hendo, given Thiago and Fab are stand-outs and shoe-ins and all the other words which make them must-start in every notable fixture.
Against Newcastle he wasn’t just the match-winner, he was continually the difference-maker: the player who blocked off Saint-Maximin’s dribbles, the one who surged with the counter-press, the individual who filled spaces in both halves of the pitch on and off the ball…and, yes, the only one who kept his composure at a critical moment.
While Diaz had a love-in with the side-netting, Jota wildly smashed a great chance, Mo fluffed a one-on-one chance and Mane put a sitter wide first time, our No8 opted to take the in-form Dubravka out of the equation completely by rounding him and beating three on the line.
The front four skipped a beat but Keita kept his cool.
Clean sheets, all the clean sheets
Virgil loves them. Alisson demands them. Our principal owner’s wife used to tweet about them on a near-weekly basis.
Given how good our attack usually is it’s easy to forget: Shutting out the opposition is the surest way to points. Today, in the title race, it was of paramount importance.
We had a bit of a wild spell there around the City-Benfica quadrangle, but since then we’ve reverted to the best version of LFC.
Barely a shot, certainly nothing clear-cut allowed and only a couple of moments where Ali was called upon to do what Ali does best.
Keep the clean sheets coming!
Second leg and first place
Top of the table until 7:30pm or so, unless Jesse Marsch and his unpredictable bunch of Leedsians can do us an almighty favour.
That’s job done for another week though and we can’t worry about if, where or when Man City will slip up, we just have to make sure that Liverpool don’t. After all, the pressure is back on them to perform and they know that this week, once again, they’re now the only ones who can make themselves lose grip.
It’s not only about the title race either, but the danger of deflation if one part of that improbable dream suddenly finds itself punctured – would the sadness at losing eternal glory suddenly spread to the second leg of the semis, for example? Or lead to a less-than-energetic showing in the FA Cup final?
It cannot be allowed to happen, so just go out and win, and then win again, and then win some more just for fun.
And in the end, it’s all still on.