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‘Still, being on the same pitch as Liverpool next season is an achievement in itself…’

3 weeks ago
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Every game, a different time. The National Lottery Gravity Pick Machine randomly selecting times and dates for all PL fixtures.

Jurgen Klopp had a midweek moan about a 12:30 kick off at SJP but it is not all about him. I had a moan too, Saturday morning is my only lie-in.

After much praise for the night games in Newcastle, I was interested to see how United would stand up to a lunchtime kick off and if the fans could stand up for a lunchtime kick off, the fans around me in the Gallowgate took full advantage of the extra drinking time in April, celebrating before and after.

I decided to join them. I had a completely unnecessary last pint when I should have been out the door and in the ground. I had to run up the hill to make kick off, the sort of run which would have been JonJo Shelvey’s distance covered stats under Steve Bruce. Thankfully those days are long gone for him, as are my days of running to the match. The only benefit to my tardiness was that I missed the first rendition of HEY JUDE. I’m getting well sick of that song. About forty clubs play it now and when you are playing Liverpool it feels like cultural appropriation. Let’s get a bit of NE4 on instead.

As preparation for this monster of a game, I watched some of Liverpool v Villarreal during the week. Villarreal played in the way I would have expected NUFC to approach the game but with an added helping of fecklessness. The Spaniards are a more settled team and one which plays at a higher level than NUFC, so for their tactics to resemble those that were portrayed by the defenders of Rourke’s Drift in the film Zulu, it could mean only one thing. Liverpool are unbeatable for all but the very best teams. Dan Burn would have to be Michael Caine for a day. NUFC would have to be at a hundred percent if we were to beat Liverpool.

Well we didn’t. And I knew we wouldn’t from the start, we were kicking towards the Gallowgate in the first half. Must have lost the toss. Game plan out of the window. Liverpool had made five changes to the team that strolled past Villarreal. Absolute superstars Salah, Alexander-Arnold, Konate and Thiago were on the bench, but it was still a great team including ex-Mag James Milner. NUFC went back to what was our normal eleven except JoeLinton was again up front with Chris Wood benched and Joe Willock’s legs getting a severe test in midfield.

United started brightly and were very strong.

Two ways to get at Liverpool, if such a thing exists, is to firstly harass them at the back while they are over-playing. Then, if they get upfield and lose possession, teams have some success hitting the space where the marauding full backs used to be. The first happened early on, the second didn’t. JoeLinton was playing wide left and ASM through the middle. A waste of both of their respective talents. JL hasn’t got the pace to play wide in the PL and Liverpool ganged up on him when the ball was in the air to nullify his strength and power. Maxi as a striker, well he is too distracted, politely put, to put the effort into getting into the right positions to play up front. He doesn’t work hard enough when NUFC lose the ball to regain an attacking position to take advantage of quick turnovers in possession. I believe it is called Shola Syndrome. If he gets the ball to his feet with his back to goal, well anything could happen and never in a good way.

Fabian Schar‘Fabian Schar covering himself in glory’

NUFC didn’t take advantage of the early superiority and Liverpool’s nerves. A Shelvey shot was about all we had to show for it. Slowly Liverpool got hold of the ball, got Newcastle running and created some opportunities. I wouldn’t say it was coming but it wasn’t a surprise when they went ahead. Schar overran in midfield, looked like he was fouled and went down in a heap. Momentarily but too easily distracted, United were open and Keita was played in, ran across Dubravka and put the ball past defenders on the line. Schar remained lifeless and we expected VAR to overturn the goal but the check came and went and Liverpool were one up. Replays showed there was no foul. In general, I hope that is a lesson to Schar. He is always staying down pretending he is injured, not that he is the only one. He shouldn’t have gone to ground and perhaps if he had got up he might have got back in and prevented the goal. In that instance, a few of his chickens came home to roost. It wasn’t all his fault though, the rest of the defence too easily lost their concentration while he was on the ground.

Liverpool dominated the rest of the half. Maxi missed United’s best chance, scuffing wide from the edge of the box like the out of form player he is. Miggy had the ball in the net but was so far offside I didn’t even bother celebrating. Dubravka made a couple of decent saves from Mane and Jota but it was obvious it wasn’t going to be easy for the Toon to even overcome a one goal deficit. Not that the games was that different to previous ones, NUFC are resilient and organised in the face of opposition possession. But Liverpool were on a different level to previous opponents. They looked like scoring regularly, dominated even our best players on the ball and hit cross-field balls which were so accurate that our full backs eventually gave up trying to intercept them.

The second half started much like the first. United were bossy and aggressive, Liverpool uncertain. Mane should have scored ten minutes in, JL must have been off the pitch for a wazz the way he was scampering back to cover. The game was still on, if not a knife edge, maybe a spoon edge. Liverpool went for the kill. They brought on Salah, Fabinho and Thiago, three top class players. Salah’s first touch was a cross-field pass that the best players in the world would have been proud of.

Outgoing Mane’s last touch wasn’t so good, naughtily leaving his foot in on Dubravka as the keeper came to claim the ball. United brought on Wood but that was it. The other substitutions were reactive. Schar limped off to the beach for the summer, new contract sticking out of his back pocket. Later, Krafth didn’t fancy getting the runaround by Diaz for a minute longer and asked Jacob Murphy if he had the lungs for it. Lascelles and Murphy weren’t the worst replacements in the world but at best they are simply replacements for injured players. They brought nothing to the party. They weren’t really invited. Our bench was all that. Theirs was like a FIFA World Invitation XI.

Newcastle United v LiverpoolDubravka made a number of saves, certainly Diaz, Jota and Salah all had at least one chance each. For NUFC, an offside Wood went through and forced a save out of Allison. Liverpool were well drilled at the back. NUFC were always offside, ran too early or offside because they were too lazy to get back onside. Bruno had a late shot easily saved by Allison and our last chance, Bruno gaining possession forty yards out but his pass was just too short for Murphy. That was the story of our day. We didn’t have the quality or belief to make the limited opportunities count. Too often the final ball wasn’t right, too often players didn’t make use of the yard of space when it was created. Too often the wrong decision was made and enough care wasn’t taken. No criticism, although I hate the phrase, I am going to use it, it is what it is. Three months ago we were getting relegated, now I am disappointed that those same players who struggled to cope with Watford, couldn’t handle Liverpool. I’ll have a word with myself.

The referee didn’t help. I didn’t think he did much wrong in the first half, he was keen to let play on and not fall for any play-acting, all fine by me. The second half was completely different, Mike Dean must have had a word with him over some half time prosecco. He started to give everything he hadn’t in the first half. Every player who fell down, mostly in red as the scousers looked to see the game out, got their free kick. Not that we can complain too much. As much-heralded dark art specialists, perhaps the Reds have their own Jason Tindall in their ranks teaching them how to get decisions. Judging by the one Joel Matip got after his second half dive, they must have Darth Vader coaching him.

So no complaints from me. Liverpool are obviously a very, very good team, one of the best three in Europe. They played well at SJP, a settled team, well organised, committed, quality on the ball, players who can score and used to getting results. It has taken Klopp a few years to get into this position. Buying top class players, keeping a lot of good players happy and playing in such a way that everyone fits seamlessly into the team no matter who is around them or their own lack of previous game time. They all know what they are doing and do it. NUFC are nowhere near that yet. Nothing much on the bench, tired legs running themselves into the ground and no spark. Still, if it takes a few years to get to where Liverpool are, we are much better placed to do that now than a year ago. Great strides have already been made.

Matt Targett‘The new John Beresford. Exhausted’

NUFC, well we gave Liverpool a better game than Villarreal did. I was disappointed though. Not with the effort or the players themselves, but definitely disappointed that we didn’t have a real go. Saving it for next season hopefully. The defence once again did well. They were up against much better opponents than recently and stuck to their task. Krafth and Targett took a bit of a battering but that was to be expected. Targett must feel a bit like John Beresford the lack of cover in front of him. Never mind us not wanting to keep him, he might not want to stay, the amount of running he has to do.

In midfield, Shelvey and Willock looked a bit lost and never got into the game. Liverpool passed around Shelvey, even James Milner able to outpace him. Willock had the look of a rabbit in the headlights for much of the game, which was a shame because a couple of times he showed he was every bit as good as the opposition players marking him, just not often enough. Only Bruno showed his class but he couldn’t do it on his own. Up front, Maxi was poor again. He just hasn’t got going recently. His own consistency is the only thing holding him back from being a great player. It’s in his hands. Or his head. I’m not a huge fan of JoeLinton or Almiron but I thought both played well. They laid a glove on Liverpool, something not many of the others did.

Last week I wrote that it would be interesting to see how our central game plan, so successful against the likes of Brighton and Leicester, would hold up against the top two. Could we compete? Well, now we know. It won’t cut it. Still, being on the same pitch as Liverpool next season and competing with Brighton and Leicester is an achievement in itself, given the toss we had to put up with until the New Year.

Before the game I was hoping that the game would be all about us but in the end it wasn’t. NUFC just got beat by a better team with better players who played well. Eddie Howe said after the game:

“I think Liverpool were probably not at their best but we weren’t either and when you play these games you have to be. We competed well but lacked the quality that could have got us a goal.”

We have seen United grind out results often enough over the last three months to know that winning when you are not at your best is vital in any successful team, whether that success is escaping relegation or winning the quadruple. If we credit Liverpool with winning with backbone rather than style this weekend, then we must also credit NUFC with not letting them be at their best. It is going to be a long road to walk in order to fully compete with Liverpool in coming years but that’s not a bad start.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Newcastle 0 Liverpool 1 – Saturday 30 April 12.30pm

Goals:

Liverpool:

Keita 19

Newcastle:

Possession was Liverpool 66% Newcastle 34%

Total shots were Liverpool 24 Newcastle 4

Shots on target were Liverpool 10 Newcastle 2

Corners were Liverpool 6 Newcastle 0

Referee: Andre Marriner

Attendance: 52,281 (Liverpool 3,200)

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Krafth (Murphy 85), Schar (Lascelles 61), Burn, Targett, Guimaraes, Shelvey, Willock (Wood 67), Joelinton, Almiron, Saint-Maximin

Unused Subs:

Darlow, Dummett, Longstaff, Gayle, Ritchie, Manquillo

(Newcastle 0 Liverpool 1 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)

(3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Newcastle 0 Liverpool 1 – Read HERE)

(‘This defeat to Liverpool exposes which Newcastle United players have/haven’t what it takes’ – Read HERE)

(Newcastle United stay top half and Everton now halfway through relegation trapdoor – I’ve had worse days – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 0 Liverpool 1 – Instant NUFC fan / writer reaction to Saturday’s defeat – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 0 Liverpool 1 – The three big points that I’m taking from the match – Read HERE)

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