Liverpool began 2024 with a ridiculously dominant display which took more time to yield a win over Newcastle than it should have – but we’re sitting safe at the top.
Liverpool 4-2 Newcastle
Premier League (20), Anfield
January 1, 2024
Goals: Salah 49′ pen 86′, Jones 73′, Gakpo 78′; Isak 54′, Botman 81′
Do we even shoot in training?
There was a lot of frustration around Anfield for quite a lot of the night – some might have been aimed at the referee, but more than likely it stemmed from Liverpool’s inability to transform utter dominance and final-third threat into goals.
The Reds had 18 shots in the first half alone, and not just random pot-shots: a penalty missed, a goal disallowed, an outrageous strike against the crossbar, a clear one-on-one missed and countless efforts parried, blocked or mis-kicked off target.
While our buildup play was at times electric and the pressing and high line of pressure excellent, the final touch was too often woeful.
So, three from 84 – or a 3.5 percent conversion rate over the three-and-a-half matches up until the break.
Just as well, then, that it took only one further shot to finally break the deadlock – but missed chances continued second half and it ultimately needed two close-range tap-ins with no ‘keeper in the way for us to celebrate legitimate goals and gain a lead we – this time – never let go.
Four in the end is nice, naturally, but the highest xG of all time in the Premier League – well over seven goals – shows how profligate we still were once more.
Two sides of Darwin Nunez in full display
The stat came in just a minute or so after Darwin Nunez ran through against a defender, bundled him off the ball, broke away towards the goalkeeper…and shot straight at him.
Classic master of chaos: all the effort, but none of the killer instinct. That miss made it 38 big chances missed, 10 scored for Darwin in the Premier League.
It’s obviously the big flaw in his game right now and no denying it, and it’s why some fans have even drawn a line now at feeling he won’t be the one who leads us to major successes.
But the other side of him continues to be a massive part of the Reds’ game plan: his running the channels, his constant availability, his penchant for creating danger from nothing and, as was shown by his assist for Mo Salah after the restart, his selflessness.
And Salah himself is another talking point, even as he’s now about to depart for the AFCON.
Salah on the spot, but not anymore…for a while at least
Mo scored, Mo assisted. Mo scored again, from the penalty spot.
And would have had another assist or two if not for some admittedly incredible saves by Martin Dubravka, in what was an absolutely world class second 45 minutes.
Apparently that came after a boot change at the break.
That might explain the following: he also had an absolute stinker of a first half during which time he missed his first penalty of the game, but certainly not his first of the season.
It’s now four of nine missed penalties in the Premier League and four of 10 overall for Salah from the spot, which again prompted discussions of whether he should be removed from them.
Of course, he’ll point to netting one after the break as to why he should continue.
While he’s now away at the Africa Cup of Nations someone else may well get the chance: Szoboszlai, Trent and Darwin are our bets to get the nod.
On a brighter note, Salah is past the 150 Liverpool goals mark with this brace and was third quickest to the tally for the Reds in history.
Curtis Jones, key to the team
Take your pick for player of the match as there were a few standout candidates, but there’s only one who was consistently excellent for all 90 minutes: Curtis Jones.
He has been immaculate in recent appearances, as he was at the start of the campaign before his latest injuries took hold.
Quite aside from his own excellence on the ball, his increasing ability to score a goal lately and his non-stop work rate to regain possession, he is quickly becoming the biggest facilitator in the team to let others do their job to exceptional levels.
Joe Gomez needs help at left-back? Jones is there. Endo swamped centrally? Guess who pops up to win it back, lay it off and move again.
He’s a conduit in buildup play, excellent with the ball, can take people on, pass through them and has endless athletic ability.
The other, quite possibly just as important, Scouser in our team.
Big returns at a crucial time
Two who had been absent of late and one who had been present but might as well not have been – this is a great time to get a few very good players back, just as Salah and Wataru Endo will be departing on internationals.
With two cup games ahead, much of the rest of the season will be dictated across the next couple of weeks – then it’s a break of roughly the same length for the Reds to take stock.
We’re top of the table and flying in Europe, that’s already in the bank for into February and March, let’s be honest.
This is shaping up as one hell of a season – and who knows what other shiny new presents January might yet bring.