Liverpool v Newcastle United
Once again an excellent team performance as Liverpool’s return to the high intensity pressing style that Klopp brought with him is showing its value. The laboured build ups and willingness to play slow, patient football has gone. The fast-paced, in-your-face, all-out attack is back and Liverpool look so much better for it. The aftermath left me with one main question, how did Liverpool only score 4? That could have been a cricket score. It was an incredibly dominating, destructive performance that fully deserved a bigger scoreline. In fact a much bigger scoreline, as it was a completely one-sided contest that must have increased the question marks surrounding Eddie Howe’s future as Newcastle’s head coach. To give an idea of how many more Liverpool should have scored, they had reached 28 shots by the 70th minute, 11 of those hitting the target.
It is disappointing that this win has somehow become controversial, because of the award of a couple of penalties, particularly the second one. The first is one that is a penalty according to the laws of the game, though often referees will not give a decision. The second one is harder to call. Jota took an age to go down. What is odd is that he had gone round the keeper so had an empty net, pretty much, to slot the ball into but went down anyway. If Jota had been English, I have no doubt the controversy being stoked in the media would be non-existent, while the pundits would have been talking about how ‘clever’ Jota was to go down. For me, I am just not sure if he simply dived or if he had been given enough contact that he was knocked off his stride and so would not have got to the ball. Either way, for me, I just wish he had tried to stay on his feet and put the issue beyond doubt by slotting the ball home. If he was unbalanced and failed to score, so be it, but at least try and stay on your feet please. It is frustrating to have this overshadow what was such a good performance, when it was such a needless moment. It is especially frustrating when the keeper came out in his post-match interview and admitted that he did catch Jota and decision to give a penalty was correct, which seems to be being ignored by the media.
What I also struggle to understand is why the controversy seems to surround how lucky Liverpool were and how they were given a helping hand. How is that the story when Newcastle had Bruno Guimaraes and Joelinton hauling people down, kicking legs out from under Liverpool players breaking on the Toon with impunity? It is astonishing that at the end of the game Liverpool ended up with more yellows than Newcastle when those two alone deserved more yellows than the entire Liverpool team in the last 3 matches they have played! I have no idea how either of them stayed on the pitch when they were repeatedly guilty of yellow card offences right in front of the referee. The officials were certainly not intent on giving Liverpool a helping hand or both of those players would have taken an early bath in the first half. Actually, even if the referee had been fair and even handed, the pair of them should not have finished the half.
The refereeing was very poor, he did book Bruno in the first half hour, but then preceded to let him get away with numerous worse fouls after it. He also let Joelinton away with two blatant bookable offences in quick succession, only to then book Diaz for being shoved to the ground. By that point the referee, Anthony Taylor, had completely lost control of the game and was under enormous pressure, mostly as a result of the choice to put him in charge, once more, of a Liverpool game when he is a Mancunian. The PGMOL really should not put him under so much pressure, he is a dreadful referee anyway, but putting him in charge of a Liverpool game is just stupidity. If you had a Pierluigi Collina, that commands respect from everyone due to how good a referee he is, then you can ignore where he comes from. But when you have incompetents like Taylor, it just creates problems for him on top of trying to referee the game. The worrying thing is that such a terrible referee is seen as one of the better ones in the English game, it just makes you wonder about how bad the standard has got.
Eddie Howe has gone big on the penalties, understandable to deflect from what was such a terrible performance, with his team reduced to just kicking anything that moved like a desperate relegation battler trying to even up a clear disparity in quality. Howe would be better served looking at himself and how badly wrong he got his tactics and team selection for the game. There are far too many times you watch his teams play, both with Newcastle and his prior jobs, where his teams seem to be simply a case of putting eleven players on the pitch and hoping they can figure it out for themselves. There seems no plan to deal with opponents, no tactical thought on how to use players to get the most from their abilities. Anthony Gordon is a prime example. He has only two real qualities – pace and the ability to hit a good, hard shot. His passing, crossing and link up play are at best poor, usually they are borderline woeful. But he is being used as a build up player, when it was shown in the summer that he is at his best running in behind and hitting a shot. He was shown to be better in the centre, running in behind, but you can get a similar use out of him in wide areas, putting the ball into spaces behind the defence for him to cut inside using his pace to run onto a ball and shoot. Instead he is used by Howe to stay out wide and usually ends up just gifting the ball back to the opposition.
Instead of complaining about things, while conveniently ignoring how lenient the referee was towards your midfield hackers, Howe would be better served thanking his goalkeeper for keeping the score respectable and figuring out how to do better next time. It must be nearing time for him to be replaced, as right now all the old inadequacies Howe showed at Bournemouth are beginning to rear their ugly head all over again. The defence has become about individuals reacting to situations, rather than an organised defensive unit working together to see out the danger. With Newcastle’s recent, comparative, success being built on a solid defensive set up, it is little wonder that cracks are beginning to appear now that the defence is disorganised. Added to that, there are clear disciplinary issues, with a complete collapse in their team discipline in the last ten minutes. There are big problems there that are not going to be fixed by just buying players.
And I really have to wonder how he can not adjust his team to cut out the through ball down the middle, which was played at least three times in the last few minutes, by Mac Allister, Grvenberch and Alexander-Arnold, each time finding their target and creating a good opportunity to score. The first one to Jota ended in the second penalty. You have to question what is going on with the coaches on the sidelines when they are not acting to cut out that easy route to their goal.
Quick notes on the players:
Alisson – I hate to say this, this man singlehandedly saved (literally I guess!) Liverpool’s season last season and has been excellent again this season, but I do think he could have done better on Newcastle’s first goal. His positioning did look a little off. He has so little work to do these days in games that there is almost no opportunity for him to make up for a mistake.
Alexander-Arnold – had a really good game, defended well, played some lovely passes but it was stopped from being great by his new found tendency to smash the ball over the bar when faced with an open goal! Oh and hitting the bar when trying to put a cross in has to go against him, even if it could have been a great goal. He is getting better in the role he is playing, being more choosy about when to invert and it is helping a lot.
Konate – had a really good game, even managing to frustrate Joelinton into hacking him down to get the booking he had deserved for at least an hour. Admittedly he was not under a lot of pressure most of the game, but what he did have to deal with he did well.
van Dijk – had a sloppy few minutes, should have done much better on Newcastle’s first goal and then quickly afterwards his touch was sloppy and it led to him giving away a needless foul. That kept Newcastle in a game they were looking near to capitulating in. He has been having a fantastic season, this just showed he is only human.
Gomez – I just want to see him cut in, shoot and finally score his first goal in professional football. Maybe it is just me but I am finding it is distracting me from watching what he is actually doing as I am looking in hope of there being a gap for him to run in and hit it.
Szoboszlai – started off really well but faded before going off with a hamstring problem in the second half. The amount of ground he has covered this season, a rest will do him good.
Jones – his contribution has been key when he has played this season. He was the one that dropped in to help out alongside Mac Allister after Endo was subbed off. This despite being on the high he must had had after scoring to put Liverpool back into the lead. He is doing the job that Thiago was bought to play, but he is much more suited to playing it in the Premier League. Unfortunately, like Thiago, he has been fragile and that has held him back. Man of the match? Could well have an argument that he was.
Endo – another excellent performance from the Japanese before he heads off to play for his country in the Asian Nations Cup, which was postponed from the summer.
Salah – had a dodgy first half, struggling with his touch and failing to convert a penalty. He changed his boots at half time and came out a different player, and scored two, including the controversial penalty after Jota did what he did. Once again though, he should have scored more.
Diaz – had an exceptional game, roaming around causing havoc and running with the ball, as well as working back and helping to win the ball back. Arguably man of the match.
Nunez – he just needs goals to complete his performances. So much good stuff, but it is being overshadowed by his inability to put the ball in the back of the net right now. I am sure it will come good for him, but it does get more difficult the longer this run goes on.
Gakpo – replaced Diaz in the 64th minute. Really starting to settle in again, scoring and looking really good once more. He is unlucky not be starting more regularly right now, but Salah’s break for the AFCON could let him in.
Gravenberch – with Szoboszlai limping off holding his hamstring, Gravenberch was the replacement in the 64th minute. Played one glorious pass through to Salah, but other than that I think the best I could call him was anonymous. And that is being extremely kind. He was almost like playing a man down.
Jota – took Nunez’s place, also in the 64th minute. I just do not understand this lad. Moments of brilliance, but also lots of misplaced simple passes and slow to react defensively. But I just cannot get my head around why he went down for the second penalty. There was just no reason to do it with the goal gaping. I do wonder how much his lifestyle affects his performances on the pitch and, most of all, his injury problems. While he is not out on the lash when he should be resting, he does sit up late every night playing FIFA (or should I say EA FC as it is now called?). It is not just that he will be up at 2am playing it that worries me, though it is a worry playing that many hours, it is more that he will be sat down for so many hours doing nothing but playing. Give him his due, he is one of the better players on the game, maybe even good enough to make a go of eSports as a career, but it does need monitoring by the club.
Mac Allister – brought on in the stead of Endo in the 75th minute. Looked really good alongside Jones there, much more confident and comfortable than he was at the beginning of the season, even after the spell out injured. In fact, I would say there seems a real hunger about him to get back playing.
Written by Tris Burke January 04 2024 05:19:57