Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Riise
Pennant Gerrard Benayoun
Other than a fairly dreadful first 40 minutes, that pretty much went according to plan.
Liverpool won easily in the end, scored at least 3 goals for the 4th straight game, and was able to rest both Gerrard (66’) and Torres (72’) for much of the second half.
But it took some time for Liverpool to open up the opposition. Newcastle offered little in attack, with Michael Owen a lone striker, but they were getting chances via corners. Liverpool dominated in possession but had only carved out two opportunities, with Harper denying Torres’ narrow shot and Gerrard’s attempt after a quick free kick. Again, Liverpool’s passing in the final third needed improvement and they were giving the ball away far too cheaply.
And then, as against Bolton, there was a fortunate opener. With Pennant putting pressure on what looked an unlikely chance, Jose Enrique (who had been unsteady throughout) sent a clearance off Pennant’s shin that looped over Harper from a tight angle.
Much like when United played Newcastle 2 weeks ago, the first goal brought about more. 3 minutes after the first, Gerrard and Torres led the break, and Gerrard’s perfectly laid throughball put Torres in, rounding the keeper to score his 25th on the season.
Six minutes after the break, Torres returned the favor. Again breaking down the pitch, Torres ran with the ball until putting Gerrard through, with the skipper delicately chipping over Harper. It could have been four in similar circumstances in the 57th, with Torres laying off for Gerrard, but Harper made another save, with the Newcastle keeper the reason the scoreline was only 3-0.
With Gerrard and Torres substituted, Liverpool took the foot off the gas, although there were still a few opportunities, most notably in the 83rd when Harper prevented both Kuyt and Riise from increasing the lead. Newcastle’s only real chance of the half came in the 70th, when Martins saw Reina off his line, only for his 40-yard effort to careen off the crossbar. Once Liverpool got two goals in quick succession with halftime imminent, the rest was a formality.
But for the first 40 or so minutes, there were some worrying aspects. Newcastle, especially Jose Enrique at left back, was shaky at fullback, but it wasn’t coming off for Liverpool on either flank. Riise and Benayoun were not a good combination, with Yossi seemingly uncomfortable on the left and looking to cut in, and Riise so limited to his left foot. I don’t mean to harp on it, but after Wednesday’s match, today was more in line with the rest of Riise’s season. And it wasn’t much better on the right; at least Pennant was making himself available, but more often than not the final ball was poor.
Which is why it’s pleasing that Pennant was the beneficiary of Enrique’s misfortune. That’s only the second goal of Pennant’s Liverpool career, and no matter the circumstances, it can only do his confidence good.
The goal led to Newcastle heads dropping, and a second was always likely. Once again, it’s Torres and Gerrard who are the difference. Both world-class attackers, and with Gerrard in a free role with two midfielders behind him, they’re linking up wonderfully on the break. The two goals were both things of beauty, showing the partnership they’re capable of, and Gerrard was unlucky not to get a second. The best thing about the 4-2-3-1 formation is the way it allows these two to play together.
Alonso had a good game as well, one of the few whose passing was on target in the first half and quickly returning to the form we know he’s capable of. Lucas was an able deputy for Mascherano; although his touch let him down in the final third, I hope it doesn’t dampen his willingness to get forward. And while they weren’t under the most threat, both Skrtel and Carragher were solid at the back. Since his debut against Havant, Liverpool’s only allowed one goal when Skrtel’s started, against Bolton last Sunday.
At the end of the day, it’s exactly what was hoped for. A fourth win in a row, 12 points from 12 in the league between the European ties. Benitez stayed with the same formation and played both Gerrard and Torres, and both Gerrard and Torres were able to come off with Liverpool in control. The spine stayed the same, but players like Lucas, Pennant, and Benayoun were able to see action in the 4-2-3-1.
I hesitate to say it’s set up nicely for the team, but they’ve done exactly what’s needed before the trip to Inter and in the fight for fourth with the difficult league stretch coming up later in the month.