Sunny day in Tyneside, murky day in Newcastle’s lore—but one to still be proud of.
The day started with Eddie Howe and the Magpies announcing an interesting starting Xi featuring a ground-laden team instead of one led by tank-forward Chris Wood, thus calling for a counter-attack approach instead of a long-balls one. That was the plan, at least, as the offense grew a little bit stutter through this one. My main concern was Joe Willock sticking to a midfield position and a role that was going to demand a lot from him on defense, and that in fact rendered null his contributions on offense as the game developed with Willock only getting 19 touches on attack while logging a measly 44 total actions over the 67 minutes he stayed on the pitch.
Newcastle started the game nicely with a chance right at the start of the game—23 seconds in—and applied pressure early on the final two-quarters of the pitch limiting Liverpool touches on offense and entirely preventing them from moving the ball in the Magpies' half.
Howe was brave in choosing a proactive instead of a reactive approach to this game. Liverpool was always going to come out guns blazing so it made sense not to lock into pure anti-football defense and instead of trying to at least do something (looking at you, Everton and Villarreal).
With 10 minutes of play gone, the system had clearly been disclosed as a 4-5-1 on defense with Allan Saint-Maximin at the top waiting for a potential long ball to the space on a counter-attacking fastbreak that could bring danger to Alisson’s confines. That actually happened when ASM got a ball launched to his right and into the final third of the field that forced the Reds goalie out of his area to clear it, covering the defenders’ backs.
Of course, this being Liverpool on the other end of the pitch, they scored just moments after that in the 23rd minute after a controversial-but-right call (or rather, lack of it) was made by the ref in letting the game develop after James Milner and Fabian Schar attacked a free ball. Milner got there first, clearly, and that launched an attack that ended with the ball inside the Toon’s net after a fantastic set of moves on- and off-the-ball by Liverpool’s Naby Keita.
Joelinton (back to the midfield on Saturday after playing both the striker and left-wing positions against Norwich last weekend) and Willock exchanged positions here and there through the remainder of the first half with the former getting to a more defensive slot and the latter taking on reasonably wider and more offensive duties manning the left side of Newcastle’s wings. Even then, though, Willock barely was involved in the Magpies game touching his first meaningful ball as late as in the added time right before halftime. Yikes.
The goal opened the game a bit and Liverpool started to apply his evil domination on Newcastle’s own half. Dubravka made a key save following a corner kick on offense of which Pool took advantage to launch a counter-attack. This, I didn’t like at all. It happened to Newcastle against Norwich on that Teemu Pukki’s insane run that ended in an off-target shot. It happened again yesterday. Gotta pay attention and stay alert, boys.
A goal, only one ultimately ruled out, followed that when Almirón found himself offside with 39 minutes on the clock. While not making the smoothest of attacking moves and dribbles to get past Alisson, he still overcame the keeper (still playing under the assumption of a valid play) and put the ball inside the net before seeing the flag going up in the air and the goal nullified.
What could Newcastle do? Sure, there were nine offsides by attacking players on the day—a season-high mark by any team that has faced Liverpool in the PL to date—but this Reds’ side is as savvy as they come when going forward to catch the opposition in illegal positions, and they proved it once more with a masterful display—shout-out Joel Matip because his game and awareness were surely a thing to witness.
Everything was working much better for Newcastle when the team bumped the lines up a bit and tried to press higher up the pitch in which was an omen to what would happen in the second half, with the team a little more bitey at times.
As expected, the second half started with the pitch feeling a little bit more open and with more spaces to get exploited. Even then, though, the first five minutes off the locker were pretty much an afterthought with no real threatening actions from any of the two sides.
I already discussed it last week, but it happened once more Saturday against a completely different opponent than Norwich: Newcastle are much better pressing high, and Saint-Maximan is a wild horse very frustrating to watch play football on a weekly basis—let alone when we get into midweek contests next year. If Saint’ximin wants to stay in the club instead of bringing a saucy money influx via transfer fee, I’m afraid he will need to change his attitude a bit more than he might want to. He’s anxious, nervous, too volatile, and always trying to do too much. Not the most optimal way to approach close, decided-by-details games going forward.
With 60 minutes gone and 37 of those playing on one leg, Schar was finally substituted by fellow center-back Jamal Lascelles. Quite a sad day for Schar, to be honest, as we started it announcing his re-signing with the Magpies and finished it looking at the man going out incapable of staying on the field anymore. Here’s hoping for a nice and quick recovery!
Between that sub and the next one seven minutes later, Mane had a chance arriving all by himself into Newcastle’s area only to shoot wide of the goal after an extraordinary ball by Joe Gomez from the right side set his shot up. Dubravka was covering the left post nicely enough, but that was a glaring mistake by Mane that could have very well wrapped the game up early allowing Pool to pack their bags as soon as the 65th minute.
With Chris Wood getting into the pitch in substitution of Willock, it was clear Eddie Howe was going for a 180-degree change on his plans of attack. It was most probably a last-resort approach by the manager given how little the team had generated on offense through the first 70 minutes of play, though it’s not that things got much better from that point on. ASM moved to the left-wing, Joelinton moved to Willock’s covered area in the midfield, and Shelvey started to work more on a long-projection MF/AM role above Bruno and Joe who went on to form a double pivot.
Liverpool made their own substitutions because they really needed them, of course, so they brought all of Fabinho, Salah, and later Thiago in. Give me a break. Give me two, actually, as the ref decided not to show Mane a red card after a reckless tackle only for him to get subbed the very next second.
Anyway, Targett saved a second half-in goal by Pool breaking a pass going Salah’s way, Dubby made another impressive save on a Diogo Jota’s shot, and Shelvey made his best pass of the day after all that... only for ASM to make the worst control of the ball you’ve ever seen and, once more, screw it all for the Magpies.
With Thiago already in and Liverpool dominating as expected, Dubravka stepped up again to save another Jota attempt. Jacob Murphy got to the pitch in substitution of Krafth but nobody, sadly, noticed at that point. It was the 83rd minute when that change happened, and only Bruno could approach putting together a mid-dangerous chance shooting from outside the box for Alisson to stop that shot, killing all of Newcastle’s hopes.
At the very end, Andy Robertson stopped a pass from Bruno to Murphy with a stupidly lucky tackle, and the ref called game.
Tough loss in that the team did everything it could against a massively better side, although a deserved one on the larger picture with much to improve if the Toon want to make it to European positions as early as next season.