21 September 2006

Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle

Right then. Three points, two goals, and a clean sheet. That’ll do.

The headline of the match, and rightfully so, is Xabi Alonso scoring from him own half, again. Left foot against Luton last year, right foot against the Toon this year. It really was a thing of beauty. And let’s not kid ourselves; even if Harper didn’t slip, that ball was going in. He was way off his line and too far to his right. This was better than Luton, better than Beckham’s against Wimbledon, better than Pedro Mendes’ that should have counted against United. Alonso made a really smart tackle, steered around a Newcastle player and the referee, looked up for the pass but saw the keeper off his line, and put an unerring shot in the corner from 65 yards away.

All in all, Xabi completely proved me wrong. He hadn’t been playing well, and I thought he’d be left out for added width. But not only did he score THAT goal, it was his inch-perfect through ball that set up Kuyt’s goal, he tackled better, he passed better, he was more influential, and he was easily man of the match. Yet he’s still not back to the Xabi Alonso that destroyed Everton last year when they were a man up for most of the game. Credit where due, I think one of the members on RAWK is right when he says since Xabi’s not the natural athlete players like Gerrard and Sissoko are, he needs more time to work himself into form early in the season. Which means this might bode well.

It’s nice to see Kuyt get off the mark as well, and with the sort of goal that Liverpool should be scoring more often. Xabi carves the defense with a pass through to Finnan on the right, who beats his man and gets a dangerous cross in along the ground, where Kuyt is smart enough to get into the space to beat both the defender and the goalie. All too often, Liverpool has had similar possession go to waste, either through poor crossing, whether it’s to a defender or the stands, poor shooting, or the strikers not getting open. Liverpool’s lost possession right when they should be scoring too frequently so far this year. They put themselves in the right position and it goes to waste. It still happened a number of times against Newcastle; I can remember a few crosses by Aurelio, and other touches by Sissoko and Garcia, in the final third that were wasteful at best. But Kuyt’s goal gives me hope, as does his overall play, but I’ve raved enough about him before.

I’m sure Newcastle’s convinced the game was decided by the penalties that weren’t called. If I was a Geordie, I’d be pissed too, they had three honest shouts for spot kicks. But I still think they only deserved one, Carragher’s first alleged handball. Yeah, it did look like his arm moved into Ameobi’s goal bound shot. When Agger appeared to trip Ameobi, Newcastle was clearly offside, and the second alleged handball was pretty obviously incidental contact on the replay. And let’s not forget when Babayaro all but caught the ball in his own box and nothing was given. The non-calls evened themselves out, and overall I think Mark Halsey did a pretty good job of letting the game flow. Even though he just about swallowed his whistle, the game never got out of hand.

I want to put this game down to an improving team instead of a poor Newcastle side in which only Scott Parker really stood out. Liverpool did what they set out to do; scored two goals, kept a clean sheet and controlled possession. Other than the PK shouts, Newcastle had no real opportunities, while Kuyt could have had two more, Bellamy should have scored, and Harper made some good saves. You can only beat the team you’re up against, and Liverpool did that fairly convincingly.

Roll on Spurs.

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