Liverpool extended their stronghold at the top of the Premier League table with another routine home win, scoring four goals in a dominant performance against Newcastle United. Dejan Lovren was the unlucky hero to set the ball rolling, cannoning in a stunning half-volley with precision and power in equal measure before Mohamed Salah’s penalty doubled the advantage.
Second-half strikes by Xherdan Shaqiri and a first goal for the club for Fabinho ensured there would be no dramatic end against Rafael Benitez. Now six points clear at the top after another blunder from Manchester City, things are looking very good indeed for Klopp’s team. Here are the observations from the match.
Strong starting eleven shows no room for lost momentum
Given Liverpool’s upcoming ties with Arsenal and Manchester City, this appeared to be a fixture where Klopp would utilise his considerable depth. Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi were expected to partner each other upfront while Adam Lallana was even tipped to make a starting berth in a much-changed midfield.
However, Klopp had other ideas, fielding a far stronger team than many had anticipated; Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane all retained their places while Xherdan Shaqiri’s inclusion in a deeper midfield role reflected the manager’s intent to go all out against the Magpies.
Indeed, it was a reflection that there remains no room for lost ground. City’s shock defeat against Crystal Palace may have gifted Liverpool a four-point gap at the top of the table but Klopp will be more than aware of their abilities to come back in the latter stages of the season. Thus, any drop in momentum caused by heavy rotation could be crucial in determining the outcome of the Premier League. Of course, his tactics carry their own risk with a heavier demand on certain players to be at full throttle week in, week out, but there can be no complaints about how it’s worked so far.
Indeed, changes were made as the game wore on and the points were in the bag; Daniel Sturridge would come on for the labouring Roberto Firmino while Nathaniel Clyne replaced Trent Alexander-Arnold and Fabinho took Wijnaldum’s spot. Giving his key players a breather in the final twenty-five appears to be Klopp’s new tact, enabling them to regain their energy and go again in the fixtures to come.
As for Newcastle, a strong starting lineup did the business and ensured Liverpool continued merrily on their course. The next stop? Arsenal.
Dejan Lovren can, in fact, hit one
Cast your mind back to that dismal day at Wembley.
Aston Villa had run us ragged and were about to dump us out the cup at the semi-final stage but for one final attack. One final chance at redemption. The ball was played intricately around the Villa box, waiting for the perfect opening to carve a chance at goal. Spraying possession out to Dejan Lovren, the Croatian looked up and decided it would be a good idea to try his luck from 35 yards out, inevitably skying the ball over the bar and sending Liverpool crashing out.
It’s a story we’ve heard time and time again. Pass the ball around, get frustrated, take a pot shot from a million miles away and gift the opposition possession again.
However, it appeared all that shooting practice had finally paid off when Lovren emphatically smashed home on the half-volley. The sweetest of strikes, it took everyone, including the Newcastle goalkeeper, by surprise, languishing right into the top corner to send the Reds on their way.
It may be the only time Lovren ever pulls it off, but what a time to do it for just minutes prior Liverpool had seemed a little under the cosh, with Joselu getting a number of half chances at the other end.
A Christmas miracle at Anfield
Anfield has played witness to many sites in the last year or so but few can remember the last league penalty awarded to the home side. In fact, it had been a remarkable 424 days since Liverpool were given a penalty before the referee judged Paul Dummett to have fouled Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian showed quick feet to wriggle his way into the box before the Newcastle defender appeared to pull out at his shirt, dragging him back and gifting the home side a chance to double the scoreline.
Albeit a little soft, it marked a true Christmas miracle at Anfield. Mohamed Salah would make no mistake from the spot, driving his shot low and hard into the goal to notch his fifteenth in the league this season – the latest indictment of his red-hot form. He now has six goals in his last five games alongside three assists in the last six.
A first and thoroughly deserved goal for Fabinho
Bagging his first goal for the club to complete the Boxing Day bout, Fabinho looked the picture of happiness in amongst his teammates. Indeed, it seemed the perfect reward for his superb form over the last couple of months that have seen him break into the starting eleven and begin to assert himself as the long-awaited replacement for Javier Mascherano.
Adding a steeliness to Klopp’s side, what’s been most impressive is the Brazilian’s intelligence in possession, breaking through the lines with incisive passing into the front three. What’s more, his confidence to maraud forward in support of the attack rather than stop and marvel at his work has taken Liverpool’s midfield to another level in the last few months, acting as a key element in their win over Napoli in the Champions League and the recent 3-1 victory over rivals Manchester United.
Fabinho is really starting to come into his own and with two crucial fixtures on the horizon, he’s set to have another important role in maintaining the unbeaten run.
Mind the gap
Well, well, well. Who’d have thought it? Not me or dozens of others that’s for sure.
That’s not a reflection on the quality of this Liverpool side I should add, but more an indication of the sheer brilliance of Pep Guardiola’s side last season. Breaking records and storming to the title, City looked utterly untouchable throughout the 38-game campaign, yet Wednesday saw them slump to their second successive defeat.
Leicester City were tremendous it must be said, but the result represents a real change in the balance of power. Now halfway through the season, Klopp’s reds have won sixteen of their nineteen games, drawing three and losing none – a rate that would see them end the campaign with 102 points. More importantly, they are now six points clear at the summit with City dropping into third place.
There’s still lots of football yet to be played, but the emergence of a gap presents a real opportunity for Liverpool to go on, one that fans will be savouring up ahead of the New Year with the club ensured top spot when they head to face Manchester City on January 3rd regardless of their result with Arsenal. That trip is looking all the more intriguing now…