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.