Three things we learned from Newcastle v. Liverpool

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NEWCASTLE — Liverpool and Newcastle played out an entertaining, tight 1-1 draw at St James’ Park on Sunday as Jurgen Klopp‘s men will once again rue a defensive mistake for handing the Magpies a point.

Philippe Coutinho‘s stunner was canceled out by Joselu‘s goal as Rafael Benitez got the better of the tactical battle.

Here’s what we learned as Liverpool were frustrated by the Magpies.


SAME OLD STORY FOR LIVERPOOL

Liverpool’s defensive issues are systematic. Not in terms of how Jurgen Klopp has his defense, or his entire team set up tactically, but due to the fact his defenders continue to make elementary mistakes.

He is not asking them to do anything out of the ordinary but it is the ordinary things they continue to get wrong. Especially for Newcastle’s goal.

It was as if Jonjo Shelvey was Moses as he picked up the ball 20 yards inside his own half. With a wave of his gifted right foot he parted the Liverpool defense as Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were caught square. The fact that it was Joselu bearing down on Simon Mignolet‘s goal will have filled the hearts of Liverpool’s fan with hopes.

The Spaniard has been wasteful but to sum up the calamitous defending from Liverpool, just as it looked like Matip had done enough to put him off the ball bounced off Joselu’s shin via a tackle from Matip and dribbled into the net.

Klopp turned to his bench in disbelief as Liverpool had, once again, shot themselves in the foot. Their ability to go from the sublime to the ridiculous in the space of minutes is as impressive as it is frustrating.

There remains only one answer for Klopp: he needs to get better defenders as soon as the January window opens. Between now and then it is likely defensive mistakes will cost his team any chance they thought they had at challenging for the Premier League title.


COUTINHO’S STUNNERS MASKS SUBDUED

The Brazilian magician was at it again. Coutinho scored his second stunner in as many Premier League games as he jinxed inside and curled home a powerful effort into the top corner to make it 1-0.

Yet apart from that he struggled to impose himself. Coutinho was asked to play out on the left hand side in the second half due to his inability to dictate the tempo of Liverpool’s attack and get on the ball.

It didn’t work. Klopp urged him to tuck inside and defend when Newcastle had the ball and although he trotted back into position, you could tell Coutinho’s heart wasn’t in it as he put his thumb up.

With Daniel Sturridge, Mohamaed Salah and Sadio Mane all missing glorious chances, Coutinho made something out of nothing but Liverpool needed more from their talismanic playmaker as their much-lauded attack again wasted opportunities and only had two efforts on target the entire game.

It’s easy to blame his failed move to Barcelona leading to a perceived lack of motivation early in the season, but Coutinho is certainly playing like a man who doesn’t care for too much other than adding to his already impressive highlight reel.


BENITEZ’S PLAN BACKED 100%

Sunday was a special day for Benitez. Facing the club he led to UEFA Champions League glory in 2005, Benitez was applauded by both sets of fans.

“Rafael’s Barmy Army” was the chant cascading down from the stands at St James’ Park for the final 15 minutes of the game as the home supporters showed their appreciation for his tactical plan and his players carrying it out to perfection.

Newcastle’s supporters went one better before the game as they unfurled a banner, which you can see below.  The general meaning of the message is that they will support him wherever they go, in spite of the lies. Reading between the lines they are quite simply backing their manager after many reported disputes with the hierarchy at Newcastle over their lack of transfer funds made available.

The home fans sung his name time and time and time again during the game and if the passionate Geordies are on your side, Benitez can push on knowing the unity he needs off the pitch is there, at least from the supporters.

With over 52,000 fans backing his team at home, Benitez will make St James’ Park a tough place to travel to all season.

His pragmatic, defensive approach got the best of his limited squad and they deserved their point against Liverpool, their second biggest test of the season so far after hosting Tottenham Hotspur back in August.

This isn’t a return to the heyday of Kevin Keegan and the entertainers era of the mid 1990s but it’s a start. After picking up 10 points in their first seven games back in the Premier League and sitting in ninth place heading into the international break, the newly-promoted side are proving they can first solidify themselves in the top-flight and then kick on.

Benitez’s clear plan is working and the Newcastle supporters are fully behind him. That much is clear. Now, he needs the board to back him and bring in three of four players with more quality, especially in the final third.

Klopp: Liverpool “not 500 miles away” from Man City’s standard

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Jurgen Klopp remains bullish on his Liverpool’s credentials as one of the Premier League’s top-four sides title challengers this season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

While everyone else might be writing off the Reds due to their propensity for defensive disasters on an every-game basis, Klopp refuses to concede that a gap of “500 miles” exists between his side and Manchester City, the early-days runaway leaders of the 2017-18 season — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t compare City with us, but I think everyone can see we are not 500 miles away. But they fly. It was a very decisive day when we lost 5-0. Dealing with a 5-0 defeat is not the easiest thing. We didn’t lose confidence but we were not that fluent afterwards and it was not like we could close our eyes and finish [thinking about it]. They did exactly the opposite. I saw the Stoke goals, you see the shot from Fernandinho and you think, ‘If it works, it works even like this.’ They are a fantastic team and we don’t have to compare, but it starts so early again with us having to apologize for the season so far because one team is flying.”

“Their way of football I would say is not something we are too far away from but to be as clinical as they have been so far? We weren’t.

“That’s the thing. We are still in the race, not with City in the moment because they have I don’t how many points, and I don’t say already that we should only fight for a top-four place. Performance-wise we are a team that should be there but now we have to get the results.”

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

All due respect to Klopp and Liverpool, the league table says City currently have 25 points (having played one game more), while Liverpool have 13. That’s not a difference of 500 points, but taking into account not only results but performances, it might as well be.

Ligue 1: Falcao, Balde score to keep Monaco close to PSG

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PARIS (AP) French champion Monaco got back to winning ways with a 2-0 home win against Caen on Saturday.

Monaco lost three and drew one of its previous four games in all competitions. But coach Leonardo Jardim’s side was largely in control against a Caen side that started brightly and faded after Keita Balde’s opening goal and first for Monaco.

“It was important to win, to get a bit of confidence back,” Jardim said. “We’ve been working hard and the players were very serious today.”

Captain Radamel Falcao scored his league-leading 13th from the penalty spot in the 59th, confidently sending goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre the wrong way.

The win moved second-place Monaco within three points of Paris Saint-Germain, having played one game more. Unbeaten PSG is away at bitter rival Marseille on Sunday.

Falcao’s partnership with teen star Kylian Mbappe was crucial to Monaco’s charge to the league title and the Champions League semifinals last season. Mbappe left to join PSG in a high-profile move — as did several other key players — but Falcao’s new partnership with the unselfish Balde looks a promising one.

“We’ve lost a few players and we need a bit of time, it’s been a bit difficult for us,” Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic said. “I hope we can stay at the top of the table and that the young players can shine. We have a lot of quality here.”

Balde has been sharp in his handful of appearances since joining from Lazio in the offseason, but mainly as a link player and a provider.

This time, the Senegal forward finished off the move as he ran onto Thomas Lemar’s perfectly weighted pass into his path, cut across a defender on the edge of the penalty area and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner.

Lemar almost created another goal when his corner was headed against the crossbar by Brazilian defender Jemerson late in the first half.

Falcao put the game beyond doubt from the spot after Slovenian midfielder Jan Repas fouled attacking midfielder Rony Lopes.


After a tricky start to his tenure at Nantes, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri has turned things around.

Nantes beat Guingamp 2-1 at home to move up to third place, extending Ranieri’s unbeaten run to eight matches after losing the first two.

Nantes, which scored through defender Chidozie Awaziem and midfielder Abdoulaye Toure, is just two points behind Monaco.

The 2 Robbies: Terriers Triumph And Chelsea Leave It Late

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start today’s show off by discussing Huddersfield Town’s surprising win against Manchester United (00:20), Jose Mourinho’s measured post-match interview (03:50), praise Manchester City again (10:30), discuss Sean Dyche’s next move (16:10), analyze that exciting match between Chelsea and Watford (18:30) and finally, weigh in on Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham United (27:30).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.