Newcastle 2-3 Liverpool: Down to the Wire
Liverpool travelled to the north-east to face Newcastle United at St. James Park in the game before last of the 2018/19 Premier League season.
With two rounds to go, the Reds were a point behind title holders Manchester City, and all they could do in this exhilarating title race was to keep winning and hope City would drop points either at home to Leicester on Monday, or away to Brighton & Hove Albion next week. Either way, the season had reached it’s final step; at least when the league is concerned.
Naby Keita has been ruled out for the rest of the season. It was initially reported that he would be absent for three to four weeks which would possibly see him return for the Champions League final should the Reds stun Barcelona on Tuesday, but in his pre-match press conference Jurgen Klopp revealed that the Guinean will be out for at least two months.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is back. Roberto Firmino started the Barcelona clash on the bench and played only the last 10 minutes, and with the rematch looming close, he wasn’t expected to start this one either. However, his complete absence from the squad looked quite ominous in itself, before Klopp provided further bad news:
Klopp says Firmino had "no chance" of playing tonight and is unlikely to feature v Barca on Tuesday night. #LFC
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) May 4, 2019
As for the Magpies, our old friend Rafa Benitez, who confirmed in his presser that there were “positive” talks with Newcastle over extending his current contract, was without the services of long-term absentees defender Florian Lejeune and midfielders Miguel Almiron and Sean Longstaff, as well as defender DeAndre Yedlin who picked up a groin problem.
The First Half
The Reds got on the front foot from the start and pushed forward, while Newcastle played cautiously at the back and looked to hit on the counterattack. But apart from a second-minute cross by Atsu, they were finding it hard to get organized.
In the ninth minute, Mane burst into the box and got a blow to the head from Manquillo, but referee Andre Marriner let the home side off there. Mane had a one-on-one with Shar in the next attack but the Newcastle centre-back did well, and then Robertson’s cross caused a misunderstanding between Salah and Sturridge.
But in the 13th minute, the Egyptian won a corner and Trent’s cross found van Dijk completely free at a full run on the edge of six yards. An inexplicable mistake by the Magpies’ defence which the big Dutchman wasn’t going to forgive.
Sturridge was playing very well in these early stages. In a genuine Firmino manner, he often dropped deeper to receive the ball and released the runs of Mane and Salah, which Rafa’s men had some trouble preventing.
But one poor backpass from Lovren towards Alisson was enough to cause a desperate scramble under heavy pressure at the back, and Newcastle players pounced. Ritchie broke down the left and swung it in for Rondon who diverted it on target, and having used his arm to stop it on the goal-line, Trent was actually lucky that Atsu scored on the rebound, otherwise he would have surely been sent off in addition to a Newcastle penalty.
Heartened by the sudden equalizer, Newcastle drove forward, and though Perez almost turned the game around with a brilliant volley that struck the bar, it soon turned to their undoing. Liverpool broke through their siege in the 28th minute and Trent whipped in another good cross, this time finding Salah whose tidy finish to the bottom corner gave Dubravka no chance.
As Liverpool looked to snatch back control, Newcastle players tried to show that they wouldn’t be pushed back that easily, and only the referee knows how Ritchie escaped booking (not even a foul was given) for going studs-up on Salah. The Egyptian was the victim of another reckless and unpunished tackle from behind by Ritchie towards the end of the half, but the Reds managed to calm the proceedings down nonetheless.
Marriner finally produced a yellow card in injury time and showed it to Schar for cheekily preventing Henderson from taking a throw-in.
The Second Half
Liverpool entered the second period much as they did the first, pushing forward straight away. Sturridge first tried to send Wijnaldum in behind early on and prompted a sharp reaction from Lascelles, before a good cross by Robertson almost found him on the far post and the Newcastle captain cleared the danger once again. The Magpies created a good moment for Rondon to shoot from the edge of the box at the other end but the effort was comfortably saved by Alisson.
Liverpool continued the pressure and Mane and Wijnaldum did well to set Sturridge up around the penalty spot, but the striker hoofed it over the bar. Then Atsu took advantage of a rash move by Trent and got behind him, ran past Lovren and tried to find Perez on the far post, but Robertson did well to clear it out for a corner.
However, as Wijnaldum cleared Ki’s corner, Manquillo returned it in towards Rondon who hit it first-time into the very bottom corner, giving Alisson no chance.
A frustrating development, but the Liverpool siege restarted immediately and this time the home side was forced to fall back to the edge of their own box and hoof the ball long towards the lonesome Rondon whenever possible.
However, on the hour-mark, the Magpies broke forward and Perez again gave the Reds hell inside the box, but the joint effort of Lovren, Fabinho and Henderson was just enough to stop him at the last moment. Then Liverpool went forward again.
In the 66th minute, Klopp made his first move and Xherdan Shaqiri replaced Wijnaldum.
Two minutes later, disaster struck. Salah was clattered by the onrushing Dubravka which first caught him on the head with his knee, and then his head smashed into the ground and left him lying motionless. After receiving the necessary medical assistance, the Egyptian was stretchered off the pitch. Divock Origi came on.
The break in play was understandably a long one, and as soon as it was restarted it was Ki’s turn to go down holding his head after a clash with Sturridge, but the Newcastle midfielder quickly resumed playing. Amazingly enough, it happened again after a minute as Perez backed into van Dijk and fell down, but he jumped up as soon as Marriner had stopped the play.
The large number of stoppages didn’t help Liverpool at all. Their play was now disorganized, passing inaccurate, and the ball changed possession frequently, which naturally suited Newcastle. Rafa’s team now defended with extreme resilience, always with 10 men behind the ball.
With seven minutes to go, Klopp threw his last dice by introducing James Milner for Lovren. Fabinho dropped back to the back line.
But it would be in the 86th minute that the hammer fell. Fabinho did extremely well to win a free-kick wide on the right, and though Trent set the ball on the ground, several players (van Dijk seeming the loudest) were demanding for it to be taken by Shaqiri. The Swiss seemed slightly awkward as he approached the ball, but once he heard the whistle, he was fully focused.
It was a perfect in-swinging cross he delivered to the edge of six yards where Origi and Lascelles competed for it. Origi hit it and it scraped the top of Lascelles’ head as it sailed past Dubravka and into the net.
Newcastle really tried to get back into it once more. Rafa sent on striker Yoshinori Muto instead of Schar, and they played quickly and directly. Rondon and Perez looked very lively as they tried to produce anything that would lead them to an opportunity to equalize again, but the Reds held out all the way to the end of the eight-minute stoppage time.
Well, if there ever was a game this season that was looking like it would end Liverpool’s title chances, it was this one. The Magpies put in one hell of a fight. They looked as if they were scared that their manager would be accused of letting his former team win or something and they were desperate to prove that wasn’t the case. They also played dirty occasionally, and the fact that Matt Ritchie got through 98 minutes of this game without being booked can only point to one thing – poor refereeing.
But Klopp’s men once again showed extreme levels of motivation and determination, and they fully deserved the three points that will see the race go to the last round next week.
All that now remains is to keep an eye on any news regarding Mo Salah and his injury. With Firmino not likely to play against Barcelona, Salah also missing out would be a heavy, heavy blow. It’s a huge advantage for the Catalans who, having secured the La Liga title, were able to rest the entire team against Celta Vigo in a game where Iago Aspas scored a penalty to seal a 2-0 win for his team.
Barcelona are next of course, and then – Wolves on the final day of the Premier League season.
We Walk On.