Liverpool retained top spot in the Premier League with a comfortable 3-1 victory over Newcastle at Anfield in Saturday’s 12:30 kick off.
A brace of goals from Sadio Mané as well as a Mohamed Salah strike were enough to seal the win for Jurgen Klopp’s men, despite falling behind to an early Jetro Willems goal from the visitor’s.
The hosts made two additions from their 3-0 win away to Burnley three weeks ago, with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain coming in for Jordan Henderson and Divock Origi replacing Roberto Firmino in attack.
The first game’s back after international breaks are typically slow burning affairs, and this proved to be the case once again as Liverpool — typified by poor touches and passes — laboured through the opening exchanges.
The Reds were in a slumber, but were rudely awoken in the 7th minute when Newcastle took the lead. Virgil van Dijk played Christian Atsu onside and the Ghanaian fed Willems — who Trent Alexander Arnold was passive in his defending of — who cut inside onto his weaker right foot and fired powerfully past Adrian from just outside the box.
The goal did spur a response from the hosts, but all of their attempts were compounded by poor passes and touches, with every player guilty. A tactical alternation from Klopp, however, soon changed things. Liverpool looked far more fluid with Mané reverting to his customary left wing berth and Divock Origi playing as the conventional number 9 and this switch bore fruit in the 28th minute.
Receiving a pass from Robertson just inside the Newcastle box, Mané unleashed a perfectly weighted right footed shot into the top right corner of the visitors goal. The shot was measured to perfection and Martin Dúbravka stood no chance.
An apparent ankle injury to Origi forced the Belgian off in the 37th minute. The hero of Madrid was replaced by Roberto Firmino and this proved to be a catalyst for Liverpool to up their game and snatch their second goal.
Only three minutes after the Brazilian’s introduction, the European Champions took the lead for the first time. Joel Matip won the ball high up the pitch and passed to Firmino. The Reds number 9 then fed a through ball to Mané which, in truth, was undercooked. However, the Senegalese star benefited nonetheless as Dúbravka initial hesitance and panic coming off his line deflected the ball into Mané’s path and he tapped into an empty net.
Performance wise, the first half showing was far from Liverpool’s best, so Klopp would have been happy to go into the break in the lead.
The Reds started the second half in a much better fashion than the first. Wijnaldum lobbed just over from Mané’s pass and poor execution from a pass from Oxlade Chamberlain squandered a rapid, 4 on 3 counter-attack.
Emil Krafth, however, skied a good chance over the bar as the visitors showed their teeth in a rare foray forward.
Liverpool almost made it 3-1 soon after the Swede’s wasted opportunity. Firmino’s precise through ball filleted the space between Newcastle’s left centre half and wing back and found Alexander Arnold. The England international seemed to be caught in two minds, between whether to shoot or cross, and eventually his effort was parried behind by Dubravka.
The European Champions grew progressively sharper as the game grew on and only Dubravka prevented them from extending their lead. The Slovak keeper kept out a Robertson shot after Firmino found Scotland’s captain in the box with a chip of equal parts quality and vision.
Newcastle’s resistance was broken for the third time in the 71st minute with a neat Mohamed Salah finish. The Egyptian was teed up by an intricate Firmino flick before evading Fabian Schar’s desperate lunge to finish smartly into the bottom right corner. Salah will get the plaudits, but the goal was all about the ingenuity of his Brazilian strike colleague.
Firmino almost turned provider again with four minutes remaining. Another audacious backheel found Salah in the box and a panicked bit of Newcastle defending saw the ball land at Alexander Arnold’s feet. The right back’s shot was smothered by the overworked Dubravka as Steve Bruce’s side escaped narrowly once again and that would be the last big chance as the final whistle blew.
Liverpool team: Adrian, Alexander Arnold , Matip, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Oxlade Chamberlain; Salah, Origi, Mane.
Substitutions: Firmino for Origi, Milner for Oxlade Chamberlain, Shaqiri for Wijnaldum.
Subs not used: Kelleher, Gomez, Lallana, Henderson.