After winning dramatically midweek in the Capital One Cup, Liverpool looked to carry some confidence into the league fixture at St. James’ Park. Yet, Newcastle entered the match with three straight wins, stretching it to a fourth with a 1-0 home victory.
In the opening minutes, Liverpool endeavoured to move the ball around and build possession. However, Newcastle dropped deep in their half and looked to counter attack with pace. It proved the home side’s tactical set-up for the match. The Reds, however, did not take up the role of the positive side and found it difficult to generate any threatening penetration in the final third.
After Liverpool surrendered a corner in the fourth minute, there was not another from either side until Newcastle again earned a corner in the 21st minute. For the Reds part in that time, they rarely found their way into the Newcastle penalty area.
The most action in the first 25 minutes was when Gabriel Obertan pulled up with a thigh injury on a run down the right flank, forcing Newcastle boss Alan Pardew to use a substitute. It highlighted a slow first half, punctuated by the occasional foul but little to no urgency for either side.
It took until the 37th minute before there was any real chance on goal. Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse turned a corner kick that sailed to the back post on goal, where Glen Johnson headed it off the line with a diving header, saving Simon Mignolet some blushes after missing the clearance.
Three minutes later Liverpool won a corner. Steve Gerrard served up a great ball to the near post where Martin Skrtel headed just past the goal, missing the best chance for a finish in what could only be described as a plodding first half.
The second half began with a second substitution for the Magpies, as Ayoze Perez replaced Cisse up front. Still, the second half brought much of the same as the first, with Liverpool passing the ball around without any threat.
Yet, the Reds dodged a dangerous moment in the 47th minute when Glen Johnson senselessly fell to the ground on the edge of the box, looking for a whistle that never came. It allowed Perez nearly to find Rolando Aarons.
A minute later, Moussa Cissoko chopped Joe Allen down with a viciously high tackle that resulted in a yellow card that could and probably should have been red. Mario Balotelli took the ensuing free kick and bent a long, curling shot from 25 yards out that bounced just before the Newcastle goal keeper Tim Krul, but was handled easily.
Balotelli would try curling another in the 55th minute. It was just as easily caught by Krul and highlighted how much Liverpool’s attack lacked incisiveness.
Then two minutes later, the Reds’ best chance would come when Balotelli drifted out the the right sideline, before finding Gerrard who made a diagonal cross deep into the near post, finding the head of Philippe Coutinho, but the Brazilian headed wide of the mark. The move seemed to breathe some life into the Liverpool attack, helping sustain a more substantial push beyond midfield.
Then in the 62nd minute, referee Andre Mariner made another critical call when Daryl Janmaat wildly chopped Balotelli down, right in front of the technical areas. Balotelli had worked hard coming back to collect the ball amidst a scrap of physical challenges. Still, it was another rash challenge from Newcastle and Janmaat escaped with only a yellow.
In the 66th minute Remi Cabella came on for Sammy Ameobi for the home side, and Fabio Borini replaced Allen for the Reds. Borini’s inclusion was an attempt to push forward with greater speed and intent but Liverpool continued to struggle trying to penetrate and break down the Magpies. Newcastle remained resolute, organized and capable of absorbing Liverpool’s pressure.
In the 70th minute, Raheem Sterling would chest down a ball into the onrushing path of Borini, who pulled a shot wide left, again from outside the box. Then, in the 73rd minute, the game turned…
After Johnson cut in from the right flank and took a shot that was easily blocked, Newcastle would start a sequence of play that would send the ball to the other end and in the net. It took three passes to reach the Liverpool box with each Newcastle player receiving the ball free to advance with little or no pressure. Perez would eventually pounce on a poor touch from Alberto Moreno to score. While Moreno’s touch was easy to blame it was Dejan Lovren’s positional indiscipline that would compound things and open up the back line for the scrappy finish.
As pressure mounted, Liverpool’s attack continued to splutter. Moreno would misplay a poor back pass from Jordan Henderson in the 76th minute that started a two-on-one break for Newcastle that could have sealed it, but for a shoelace save from Mignolet.
Rickie Lambert would make a cameo appearance in the 80th minute, replacing Coutinho. Yet the two forward setup did little to add to the attack, as Newcastle would try to press their advantage, mounting a handful of attacking waves that put the Reds on their back foot for much of the reminder of the match.
Despite remaining three points off fourth position, Liverpool continue to suffer from a crisis of confidence. The Reds look bereft of answers to the increasing number of questions in all areas of the game. The defense continues to make collective and individual errors, the midfield continues to struggle in transition, speed of play, and finding space, and the strikers, whether one or two, continue to lack clear chances and misfire.
While Daniel Sturridge cannot return to the starting eleven soon enough, the Reds’ problems are growing and need to be righted quickly, before the season slips away in a series of what-ifs and could-have-beens. The fortunes of the midweek cup clash did not continue.
With a Tuesday trip to the Bernabeu this match was an opportunity missed, especially against a team finishing without a first choice striker. To Newcastle;s credit, they are riding a wave of good form that has powered them to four straight victories. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s inconsistency continues, leaving them with as many losses as wins and still looking for solutions.