06 December 2015

Liverpool 0-2 Newcastle

Skrtel OG 69'
Wijnaldum 90+3'

Liverpool had been very good at grinding out results when playing poorly, but that couldn't last. And that didn't last.

The short version: that was a bad match between teams who played badly and I wish I hadn't watched it. It was easily Liverpool's worst performance since Klopp became manager. But had two moments gone slightly differently, Liverpool could have come away with one, if not all three points. And that's not even including Benteke's missed sitter in the 21st minute.

But two moments, unlike against Bournemouth, Kazan, or Swansea, went the way of Liverpool's opponents instead. After 69 minutes of torpor, where neither side (except for that aforementioned Benteke chance) looked remotely like scoring, Wijnaldum, given too much space in the box to receive Sissoko's cross, looked to have put his Danger Zone shot off target. Even had it found the target, Mignolet appeared to have it covered. Instead, it deflected off Skrtel, looping over Mignolet.

Ten minutes later, Moreno appeared to have equalized, a superlative volley from Milner's deep cross. But the linesman incorrectly flagged for offside when, despite being play on by Dummett, the player closest to the linesman.

To be fair, Liverpool deserved nothing from that match. Last match not withstanding, we've complained about Liverpool's continued impotence in attack, and it was at it worst today. But it's not as if Newcastle deserved much more.

Liverpool deployed a 4-2-3-1 for the first time since Crystal Palace, a similar XI to that which narrowly beat Swansea except with Lucas replacing the suspended Can and Allen preferred to Lallana in midfield. And it was very much like that Crystal Palace, except Liverpool didn't even create the chances that Liverpool missed against Palace, and Newcastle are still much worse than Palace.

When three corners in the first two minutes led to nothing, the match devolved into what was, for all intents and purposes, a smoldering tire fire. Liverpool dominated possession, Liverpool did nothing with that possession, Liverpool were unable to string any passes together in attack. Newcastle were just kinda there.

Benteke and Firmino have started together in three matches under Klopp before today's: 1-0 Kazan, 2-1 Bordeaux, and 1-0 Swansea. Sure, Liverpool won, but that had more to do with Liverpool's defense, Liverpool's opponent, and getting those bounces of the ball that Liverpool didn't get today. Because Benteke and Firmino simply haven't gelled yet, and they certainly didn't today.

Those, along with the loss to Crystal Palace, are the four matches that Benteke has started under Klopp, and he's not played particularly well in any of them. Benteke at least had chances against Palace, mainly set up by Coutinho, but couldn't take them. However, he's been much better as a substitute with legs tiring: the two away matches against Chelsea and City, helping to extend and secure Liverpool's led in those impressive away victories.

Those two players' inability to do anything well, or combine in any sort of fashion, clearly isn't the only reason that Liverpool lost. But it's the biggest.

Liverpool had just one first-half chance until added time: when Benteke skied from two yards out after Lovren knocked down Liverpool's fourth corner in the 21st minute. The first open play shot that wasn't blocked came in the extra minute, when Ibe shot just over the bar from outside the box, cutting in from the left. That's not good, especially when you have almost 60% possession and are playing the 19th-placed side.

It's not as if Newcastle were any better – their only chance from a set play as well, in the 44th when Cisse flicked Colback's corner on but Mbemba headed over. But, and not to be rude, that's somewhat expected from Newcastle, even at home, against opposition that had lost just once in the last 17 matches.

It was much of the same to start the second half until substitutions, with Sturridge and Lallana replacing Benteke and Firmino in the 62nd minute. Benteke and Firmino had to go off; they exchanged just one (1) pass in 62 minutes of play. Each managed just one shot, both off-target.

Unfortunately, it didn't change in the manner that Liverpool hoped. With Sturridge and Lallana on instead, Liverpool looked marginally more threatening, even if – surprise! – it didn't led to opportunities in front of goal. But then, Newcastle allowed too much time and possession on Liverpool's left flank, Sissoko's cross, Wijnaldum's space and shot, Skrtel's own goal. Liverpool behind, in a match where they rarely looked like scoring. Behind to a side that had yet to put a shot on target.

Aside from Moreno's "goal," Liverpool managed little response, Newcastle's previously terrible defense now much deeper and still doing just enough. Sturridge pushed a right-footed shot wide from Lallana's wonderful throughball prior to the Moreno controversy, but in the final ten minutes, Liverpool were limited to two Lovren headers: the first off-target, the second straight at Rob Elliot. The second, in the 89th minute, was Liverpool's first shot on-target. I'd suggest you're not going to win, or even draw, many matches when you don't get a shot on-target until there's a minute left in the match, but Newcastle had yet to register one either.

Of course, they soon did, when Wijnaldum finally ended Liverpool's pathetic hopes for an unlikely equalizer in the third minute of extra time. Liverpool's second loss under Klopp, Liverpool's first away loss under Klopp, the first time Liverpool have been behind by two goals under Klopp.

It's easy to criticize the lineup after the fact, from behind a computer screen, ignoring how many matches that Liverpool have played in the last month. But I'm still going to do so. A midfield of Allen, Milner, and Lucas isn't creating much of anything. Benteke and Firmino haven't shown any signs of combining to any effect; Benteke's been fairly poor in every match he's started since Klopp became manager. Ibe, still only 19, still with some fairly glaring flaws in the final third, was by far Liverpool's only threat until the substitutions, at least capable of running at defenders. Daniel Sturridge, only just back from injury, remains a very good goalscorer, but Daniel Sturridge is still just back from injury, having played for an hour four days ago. He'll win Liverpool a lot of matches, but won't and can't win them every match he appears in.

Wednesday's emphatic win remains something of a fluke as Liverpool remains pretty bad in attack no matter who starts, but today seemed even more a recipe for disaster than usual. Until Coutinho returns; until Henderson and Sturridge are fully fit; until both Benteke and Firmino improve, adapt, and adjust to this league and/or this team and this manager, performances like today's will happen.

Despite conceding twice for only the second time since Klopp became manager – the first unluckily, the second with the game wide open with Liverpool "pushing" for an equalizer – the improvement in defense remains visible and remains clear. But we really need to start seeing similar improvement at the other end of the pitch.


Erik Long said...

Very good analysis,however there's one more thing. The clubs started to play with much more respect in energy against Liverpool (Newcastle were the first team to outrun Liverpool on the pitch). That's mainly because of the fear to be humiliated (considering last big Liverpool wins) and partially because Liverpool, especially now with Klopp in charge, became an important prize to take for increasing players confidence. Therefore as the quality rise, the bigger challenges will Liverpool face. Something what Man City are experiencing this season. The teams are playing much better football against them than usually do.

Anonymous said...

7 games, 11 points is exactly what Rodgers managed. Draw against West Brom and after 8 games the record will be the exact same.

Rodgers arguably had a more difficult schedule as well. The team looks a lot better and occasionally scores more goals but nothing has dramatically changed has it.

nate said...

Rodgers had three seasons and change, and it had steadily gotten worse (in goals scored, conceded, and points per game) since the start of 2014-15.

Klopp came in midseason and has had seven league games (12 in total) and things are similar but slowly getting better (in defense especially, in attack less so). We certainly never saw performances like those at City and Chelsea under Rodgers, even in 2013-14, when Liverpool were amazing but consistently not good away against good opposition.

Gradual improvement, even if slower than we'd like, coupled with usually-more-fun-to-watch matches. That's about all we've any right to expect.