Many of the viewers of this match (particularly casual observers, but surely many Newcastle and Liverpool supporters as well) would have boiled it down to "The old number 9 versus the new number 9" and in the first half, the major events would have supported that view. Throughout the first half, it looked like Liverpool were desperate to get their £35m man involved and were able to do so with varying degrees of success, and it would be the big striker who would make the first news, rounding Tim Krul easily and then, inexplicably, diving when he could have just slotted home easily. Yellow card given, clean sheet intact.
You'll be hard-pressed to find a Newcastle fan who is not excited at what we have seen over the past two matches from the new 4-3-3 formation, and it was the player for whom the formation was intended who would yet again provide another piece of magic. Hatem Ben Arfa received the ball out on the right, made some space and sent in perhaps the most perfect cross you may ever see... and it had to be. Papiss Cisse, Newcastle's new number 9, was well covered on the back post, but found a way to head the cross back across goal and in. 6 goals in 7 matches sorted, and 1-0 to the good guys.
The match would ebb and flow for the remainder of the first half with opportunities on both sides, perhaps the greater of these falling to Liverpool, including an attempt off of a corner that appeared to hit Danny Simpson in the upper arm on the line which was not called a penalty. Through black and white glasses, I have to say "You'd be hard pressed to say that was arm to ball (if it indeed WAS arm), but I've seen them given"... but it wasn't and it went 1-0 to the halftime break.
In my preview, I think that it was pretty clear that I was deathly afraid of the Perch-Williamson CB tandem. I honestly felt that they were going to get mauled by the Liverpool attack, and to be fair they did not. Not even close. They were beaten at times, and thankfully Liverpool's finishing was about as effective as it has been (Did you know that Suarez has a 9% shots to goals ratio?) . There was a brilliant chance for Liverpool off of ... wait for it... a defensive miscommunication in the Newcastle back line (sound familiar?), but James Perch was yet again channeling is inner Perchinio and executed a MASSIVE block to maintain Newcastle's clean sheet. Overall, you have to give credit where credit is due to the two gentlemen I doubted the most pre-match.
Speaking of credit where credit is due: Newcastle's midfield set up of Guthrie, Cabaye and Tiote all were at the height of their powers, so to speak, with Cabaye and Tiote finally returning to the early-season form that saw them featuring in conversations as perhaps the best CM pairing in the league. While neither team truly dominated the midfield battle, they functioned beautifully on both ends of the pitch, facilitating our shiny beautiful new counter-attacking ability, providing a solid shield in front of what could have been a shaky back line. It was a performance for which Newcastle faithful have been waiting for a month or more.
In the end, the Battle Of the Number 9s would squarely end up won by Papiss Cisse as he neatly tucked away his second midway through the second half, and the Liverpool number 9 would be withdrawn without impacting the score sheet and it has to be said that he had much less influence in the second half as well.
Pepe Reina would do his best to steal the headlines from this match, but not in a traditional manner, you could say... into the final 10 minutes, he collected a sloppy high ball into the box and looked to sprint to the 18 yard line. In process he somehow got tangled with Perch (it did not look like Perch did anything to get in his way) and Reina reacted as most reasonable persons would do. He ran back to Perch and put his head directly onto Perch's. Exactly how much contact was made is perhaps debatable, but it was always a red card offense and was adjudged as so by Martin Atkinson.
Ultimately, the late ejection would not affect the time remaining in the match as there was not much venom left after that point. Perhaps this squad has found the magic that helped it off to such a great start. A match that by all rights should have been a difficult test for them was met and passed with flying colors. Newcastle remain level on points with Chelsea and are now a full 11 points ahead of Liverpool (now solidly 8th).
What is your take on the match?