27 April 2013

Liverpool 6-0 Newcastle

Agger 3'
Henderson 17' 76'
Sturridge 54' 60'
Borini 74'

From Monday:
Sturridge was very, very good yesterday, but Liverpool will need that sort of performance with even more output, plus vastly improved performances from Downing, Coutinho, and Henderson. The Uruguayan is a hard man to kill, and an even harder man to replace.

Sturridge = two goals and an assist
Henderson = two goals and an assist
Downing = two assists
Coutinho = an assist, and the hub of so much of Liverpool's excellent work in attack.

Oh, and Borini made his return, scoring within 90 seconds of coming off the bench.

Well then.

It's incredibly difficult, but let's not get carried away with how well Liverpool played – more specifically, how ruthlessly Liverpool attacked – in Suarez's absence. Newcastle played a crucial role in Liverpool's rout, but it was still more than reassuring to see the team come out shouting blood and thunder, then go straight for the jugular.

It was the most goals Liverpool have scored in a league match since beating Hull City 6-1 in September 2009. A six-goal margin of victory equals Liverpool's biggest in a league away match, and a 0-6 loss is Newcastle's worst home defeat since 1925.

This was a different Liverpool in Suarez's absence. Liverpool had to spread the wealth without its talisman, and did so excellently. The side was much more direct in attack, and was less focused on keeping possession; Newcastle actually had more of the ball than Liverpool today. Coutinho thrived by playing in his preferred #10 position – neither superlatives nor statistics do that performance justice – while Sturridge exploited the acres of space given by Newcastle's back-line.

Of course, one swallow doesn't make a summer. We'll (unfortunately) have nine more games to see if Liverpool continue in this manner, and it continues to reap similar rewards. And as we always seem to hear when Liverpool stroll to victory, the opposition helped by not being very good today.

Once again, a comprehensive win starts with an early goal. Today started with Agger's third of the season, staying forward after Newcastle only half-cleared a corner, beating the offside trap to loft a header over Rob Elliot. And before Newcastle could breathe, Liverpool had a second: Reina's long kick deftly controlled by Sturridge, laid off to Coutinho, who found the striker with a wonderful through ball, subsequently put on a plate for Henderson, benefiting from his burst to join the attack with a tap into an empty net.

However, Newcastle finally pulled itself together, finishing the half with a scrappy 20 minutes where they could have easily pulled one back. Somehow, last season's villain James Perch missed a free header from Haidara's excellent cross. Karma. Still, Liverpool remain vulnerable to crosses into the box, but Newcastle couldn't take advantage.

Pardew's halftime changes – Ben Arfa for Perch, Gouffran for Jonas – continued Newcastle's momentum, but without reward. Then, countering quickly, came Liverpool's third. And once Sturridge got the third – Coutinho stealing possession from Ben Arfa after Henderson pressed him back into Newcastle's half, charging forward, and somehow threading the ball through two defenders – the match was over. The final 35 minutes were just piling dirt on the corpse.

Sturridge got his second on another blown offside trap: Gerrard's ball over the top meeting Henderson's burst, selflessly returning the favor for Sturridge's earlier assist rather than taking the more difficult shot. Borini came on for the captain in the 73rd – Gerrard's first missed minutes in the league this season – then scored in the 74th, smartly pulling into space to slot home Downing's cutback. Two minutes later, Henderson punished Debuchy's sending off for a second yellow by crossing a free kick directly into the net, one of those "balls into a dangerous area" that's going into the net whether it finds a Liverpool head or no head at all.

From there, merciful cruise control, the only real threat at extending the lead from Coutinho's wicked shot saved onto the crossbar, swiftly followed by Shelvey and Suso replacing the Brazilian and Sturridge.

Three of Liverpool's goals came from broken high-line offside traps. One came from Liverpool pressure in the opposition half, running at the defense before it could settle. Newcastle could do less about the final two: Borini wonderfully pulled into space and struck quickly, then Henderson's dangerous free kick eluded everyone. Liverpool did well, but, yes, Liverpool had help.

The next three matches, and subsequent six to start next season, will not be this easy. But this style of play seemed to suit Liverpool well, from back to front; the only concern was Liverpool's lack of possession inviting pressure for 20-30 minutes. Better teams could well be able to punish that lack of control. Still, it's a minor complaint when Liverpool's attack is that good.

Of course, Liverpool's next match is a Merseyside Derby, where the style of play regardless of personnel is more akin to mud wrestling.


suley said...

I wonder why we lacked possession in this match. Is Brendan beginning to play a different style? Or switching it up from match to match?

Unknown said...

Probably just a matter of score effects, suley. From a statistical perspective, once a team takes a lead so early in the game, the expectations of possession and shot totals tilt toward the team that's trailing, particularly when it's the road team that takes the lead. Anecdotally it's a pretty easy story to construct, too -- the team that's leading is usually more than content to sit back and try and grab a goal on the counter.