Some people were scared when they heard the news: Lascelles starting in the middle of the defensive line. Fraser featuring from the get-go as the left wing-back. A midfield trio without a single player capable of pulling off ball-recovery duties. In all honesty, I was not.
I was not because, for one, Jamaal Lascelles has been Newcastle’s captain for a long time and a Magpie staple with vast experience in Premier League play, let alone football as a whole. I was not because, as much as he’s a reserve these days, Ryan Fraser was one of Eddie Howe’s leading men in their Bournemouth days and if there’s a pairing that knows each part to their bones then that’s this one. I was not because, while Bruno and Jonjo are and will be out for a few/many games, Joelinton is coming off an MVP season while Willock is taking weekly steps forward and Longstaff is one of the more solid players in the squad.
Most of all, though, I was not because one boy among all men was playing his first game donning the Black and White threads: Alexander “The Great” Isak, fosterer of the Magpies' Greatest Era to come.
And of course, I wasn’t worried because the 9-0 record-win by Liverpool last Saturday felt more like a fluke than a true-talent display by a Reds team that had only won once in their first three games of the season.
That doesn’t mean this one was going to be an easy game to get a positive result from, though. Facing sides with the likes of Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk, and Fabinho spread over the three outfield strata is always going to be a tall task. Doing so expecting to earn even one single point while not having out-and-out starters such as Callum Wilson, Bruno, and even Allan Saint-Maximin is a straight suicide-inducing thought.
At least the bad news coming with the lineup announcement was softened a few hours earlier when Isak’s availability was made official by the Premier League and Newcastle with the Swede getting his papers and work permit officialized and thus making it head-first to the Magpies' starting XI. And oh boy, did it pay off for Newcastle.
With Trent Alexander-Arnold the weakest link of the Reds chain, as is often the case, the first touches of grace from Isak took place around the 11th minute of play. TAA gifted the ball to Joelinton near Newcastle’s area but a quick combination of just two passes and a rush forward in possession of the ball by Joe Willock, then dumping the ball on Isak on the left channel, was all it took for the Magpies and their new striker to fire away their first threatening shot.
Newcastle started the game very composed and it was Liverpool the discombobulated side more than the Geordies in the early stages. Nearing the 20th minute and after that Isak's shot had warned the Reds, a phenomenal play was cooked slowly by the Men in Black. The ball roamed the full width of Anfield getting passed around everybody from Isak, to Almirón, Willock, Trippier, Lascelles, Burn, Targett, and ultimately a shot-firing Ryan Fraser that sent it a big up-and-right off Alison’s goal culminating a delicious team play.
With a quarter of the game played, the truth is that Newcastle’s approach to the game and continuous attacking actions were starting to make it all a worrying affair for Jurgen Klopp and his men. Whether on counters or passing plays, the Magpies were in possession of the game for the first 30+ minutes of playing time and there’s no denying that.
It took Luis Diaz and Liverpool 34 minutes to get (relatively) close to a clear chance when the South American found a through ball by Firmino only to misfire having already dribbled past Nick Pope. The Merseyside faithful was already getting overly excited in the stands only to see the ball go up to the sky and out.
Not even 40 minutes into his baby Newcastle career, Isak delivered the goodies. And with a banger he did. Alexander-Arnold, again doing something stupid, gifted the ball to Joe Willock right in the middle of the pitch after attempting a pass to no one (?). Willock passed it to an Almirón who, in the best possible imitation of injured ASM, dribbled his shadow a bunch of times, shared the protagonism with Trippier on the wing, and build the start of what would become Isak’s first goal as a Magpie.
Veteran Jordan Henderson deflected Tripps' attempt to find Isak on the verge of the box and the Red thought that was enough to earn his salary. Turns out it was not, as the ball ricocheted to Sean Longstaff who made the most of that rebound putting the ball through a seemingly non-existent corridor to find Isak in an open space and running toward a rushing Alison who could do nothing to stop the Swede’s shot into the net.
Mad Klopp. To the second half, we go.
The final 55 minutes (or I guess it was 45 if you’re a Liverpool fan) made for a very different story. Newcastle absolutely retreated back to their own half and only Isak (who went to the bench in exchange for Chris Wood in the 64th minute) averaged an opposition-field average position in the second half of the game. Almirón’s average position was deeper than Trippier’s, Fraser and Targett virtually shared the same spot on average on the left flank, and the pairing of Willock and Longstaff did the same in the middle of the pitch with Joelinton the only man out there applying some pressure on Liverpool’s buildup game—leaning slightly to the left due to TAA’s constant runs and touches there.
Only 53 minutes in, and Pool was already trying to come up with penalties where there were only hip-to-armpit deflections. Or you prefer to look at it from the next-play-to-happen-angle, a certain Captain Hendo grabbing and holding onto Longstaff's neck only to try to then deceive the ref into conceding a pen. Alright, then.
Anyway. What came next to that chicanery while Liverpool’s players were still asking for the nonexistent and as a follow-up to all of that silly stuff was a sight to behold and a huge VAR-inflicted low blow on Newcastle’s gut. The play was lightning-quick with Pope handing the rock to Matt Targett who, once in possession and advancing the ball forward, found Isak launching a run toward the Reds box and leaving TAA (who else and how not...) biting the dust.
Even the most perfect and finely tuned technology wouldn’t have ruled this play offside, but some agendas must be pushed and when next May comes a title race must be on, we have to suppose. Isak, of course, finished the ongoing play and left both TAA (once more as he backtracked on defense to fix his initial gamble) and Joe Gomes looking for body balance before putting the ball inside of Alison’s net with a delightful finish.
I’m an analytical guy driven more by the process than the actual results, so you get an idea of how pleased I was with the pass and the finish by Isak. If this is what Newcastle will have coming to them every weekend, you bet I’d be stuck to the telly week in and week out. It’s not that I want to miss this type of firework.
That was the final touch by Isak and the final hope of Newcastle to get anything positive from a predetermined midweek match that Firmino tied in the 61st minute of play. Back-to-back Premier League games for the veteran Brazilian featuring on the scoreboard. No need for Nuñezes nor Jotas.
It doesn’t take a genius to look at the game clock and see something is off. Even less if you know that, well, the time is clearly past the effectively-added time from the sidelines. The clock was reading 96 when Alison dumped the ball to TAA. Guy Mowbray, BBC’s commentator on duty, made it clear to those watching, just in case. “Andre Marriner has not shown any sign of blowing the full-time whistle yet,” adding that “six and a half minutes of added [time] are gone.” You be the judge.
Burn blocked a shot by Salah in that play, the ball went out of play and into a corner kick for Liverpool, and that ended in the final 2-1 win by Pool after a scrambled-eggs play inside the six-yard box. Fabio Carvalho was the murderer of Newcastle’s hopes of earning one more point. Liverpool earned three to the Magpies none in the 98th minute.
They might still be playing because you never know when it comes to the Reds and added time. Sadly, I’m about to reach my quota of words for a single post so I must stop writing now without a chance to provide any more recapping of the game.
First loss of the season in five games, six if you count Tranmere away. Nothing to complain too much about. Crystal Palace is back at St James’ Park next Saturday as Newcastle will be hosting the visitors from London. Howay the lads!