03 March 2018

Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle

Salah 40'
Mané 55'

Something something something Liverpool's attack is really good.

Playing against Rafa Benitez sides can be really frustrating. Liverpool hadn't beaten any of his sides coming into this game: two losses against Valencia 15 years ago, then three consecutive draws against Chelsea and Newcastle. His sides are always well-organized, and playing five at the back made it even worse.

That's it's barely above freezing and also windy certainly doesn't help.

So, we were gonna see even more Liverpool possession than usual, but we were also gonna see fewer Liverpool chances than usual, especially good chances. There would be chances – because this Liverpool side – just not as many as we'd like. And it'd be up to Liverpool to take them – something the side usually does, something the side failed to do against Everton, West Brom, and Swansea.

Yes, it took awhile to click. Mané can't control Alexander-Arnold's cross when it surprisingly falls to him in the fifth minute. Salah doesn't take the first-time shot and is closed down in the 28th. Can's set play header loops over in the 16th, Lovren's set play headers are saved and blocked in the 27th.

But this attack's gonna get its. And Mohamed Salah's gonna get his. Oxlade-Chamberlain picks up possession in midfield with the sides transitioning; van Dijk's intercepted a goal kick, but Murphy's nearly pressed Henderson into losing possession, but it's fallen kindly for Oxlade-Chamberlain. And he's away, away where he's at his best, driving at a retreating, not-yet-set defense, charging to the top of the box before finding Salah, who fires a shot through Dubravka's legs, hitting a thigh but still accurately enough to go in.

It's the seventh consecutive game with a Mo Salah goal. It's the 19th league game he's scored in, out of the 28th he's played. No Liverpool players have scored in more than 19 Premier League games in a season and only Suarez in 2013-14 and Fowler in 1994-95 and 1995-96 have scored more Premier League goals than Mo Salah in a season and it's barely March.

It's almost not fair.

And, 15 minutes and halftime later, it's even more not fair, with that one flowing, jaw-dropping, pants-erasing move that Liverpool seems to get at least one of every game. It looks like more of the patient possession we've seen when Firmino regains the ball in midfield, but Mané plays pivot when Oxlade-Chamberlain looks forward, to Can, to Firmino, and now we're away and now Firmino's slipped the ball through two defenders for Mané and now Mané's absolutely thwacked it into the goal. Woof.

There could have been more. There should have been more – with one penalty shout and a last-man, maybe-inside-maybe-outside-the-box shout ignored in the final minutes of the match. But Liverpool didn't need more at that end of the pitch.

At the other end, there was going to be little on offer from Newcastle. But Liverpool would have to be diligent and decisive in few moments that could have been. Concentration levels – rarely Liverpool's forte! – would have to stay high in the icy cold. Dwight Gayle's tortured Liverpool before. Set plays happen. Flukes happen.

But Virgil van Dijk continues to make a massive difference in defense: more comfortable playing this high line, winning everything in the air, shouting out directions and organizing the back line both in and out of possession. And Lovren has been much more competent when playing with a partner who does all of those things. After some early struggles with van Dijk's adaptation, this is now four clean sheets in Liverpool's last six games – the only exceptions that Tottenham game which we're still not talking about and West Ham's consolation with Liverpool already three-up last week.

And, the one time that Newcastle actually got around those guys and tested Loris Karius, Karius was more than equal to it, denying Diame's fierce spinning effort just before halftime. As he did against Arnautovic last week. As he did on Højbjerg's clear-cut chance and a couple of headers at Southampton with Liverpool 1-0 up three weeks ago.

It's a game-changing save. It's not the first game-changing save he's made during this run.

After waiting a year for a 2-0 win, we've now seen two in the last three league matches. And the two were a lot alike. Sure, Southampton were a lot more threatening than Newcastle, both because of their talent up front and being at home rather than away. But a Liverpool side not at its most frightening had enough up front and at the back to get the win. They've got those three players up front, they've got an increasingly coherent defense and midfield. And as the game winds down with no more Liverpool goals, we're not especially fearful, even knowing what happened with two-goal leads before.

We've seen more emphatic performances – quite a few of them. We'll see more emphatic performances. But it's competent and professional and job done. And it's three more points.


Anonymous said...

Man, I like your articles .. so true, peaceful and normal (what we don’t see in mainstream guerilla journalism), Thanx.

Anonymous said...

Keep it real, Nate 🔥