By Umarah Naz
After a September to not remember, Liverpool looked to begin October with a return to the winning ways of August. The only win last month came against Leicester; achieved only by the skin of their teeth. But despite the lack of points, the Reds were aiming to sit in fourth place by the end of the weekend level on points with Tottenham.
Newcastle were Sunday’s hosts and started the season with their own mixed fortunes. Rafa Benitez’s season began with three losses at the hands of Spurs, Huddersfield and Nottingham Forest (League Cup), but he followed them up with three consecutive wins against West Ham, Swansea and Stoke City.
Last week saw them lose away to Brighton by solitary goal so predicting the match against an out of form Liverpool team was anyone’s guess.
Klopp made three changes to his side. Gomez returned at right-back, Can kept the bench warm with Coutinho taking his place, whilst Firmino made way for Daniel Sturridge who was looking to score his 100th goal in a Red shirt.
At the risk of sounding like a footballing version of Theresa May, the game began with Liverpool dominating and creating chances but finding little success in finishing them off.
This has very much been the case recently for a team terribly lacking in the final third. And with Newcastle defending well, maintaining their discipline and stifling the attack, the job became that much harder for a frontline already low on confidence.
Nevertheless, Liverpool did manage to get themselves into some great goal scoring positions only to be found wanting. Again. Early on, Salah began a move with a stunning pass to Mané but when the ball was given back to him in front of goal he couldn’t connect with the ball. Sturridge played a ball catching Salah on the break but the Egyptian chose not to pass to Mané and the move ended in an anti-climax.
Wijnaldum hit the post from a corner and Lovren missed the ball on the rebound. In one of those “How?!” moments, the ball fell to the centre-back again but his shot went straight to a Newcastle defender. Mané did us all a favour and ended the drama with a shot into the side netting.
So what does a team need when the usual style of walking the ball into the net isn’t working? Phillipe Coutinho is the correct answer; a player who has scored the most goals from outside of the box in the Premier League since his debut. It was classic Coutinho too. Cutting in on his right foot to bend one into the top left corner.
Liverpool took a deserved lead but now needed to either increase it or defend it. Two things that have proven difficult tasks. But it was all of seven minutes later that the Reds made sure of one of those. A single pass to Joselu, who was nestled perfectly in between Lovren and Matip, by Jonjo Shelvey found the Spaniard fronting up to Simon Mignolet.
Commendably, Matip raced back and made the tackle but the ball ricocheted off Joselu’s shin and rolled into the empty net. A tad unlucky one could say.
The second-half offered more of the same with the two best chances for Liverpool to win it coming at each end of the half.
In the fiftieth minute, Sturridge couldn’t capitalise on a mis-kick by Ciaran Clark and his shot was saved by Elliot. The eighty-eighth minute saw Moreno’s cross met by substitute Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose header soared over the bar.
Sturridge’s return to the starting line-up was greeted with much enthusiasm. With finishing being a huge issue of late, it made sense to bring in your most natural finisher. Where some fans may think he lacks in pressing the ball, he makes up for in efficiency in front of goal. But he couldn’t find his form on Sunday either much to the disappointment of the fans.
With Klopp not being Danny’s biggest fan, it was imperative for him to impress. As it is, it’s unsure when the striker will see his next start.
Although the display wasn’t as fluid as the ones in recent weeks, Liverpool did more than enough to win the game at St. James’ Park.
No doubt that Benitez would have gone away ecstatic with a draw against a team that, despite being out of form, offer a difficult time for any defenders.
Klopp is finding himself answering the same questions every week and seems visibly irked by the media and their incessant probing. The defensive woes were bad enough but add to that an attack that is struggling, and the questions become whole lot more tiresome to deal with.
Another international break is upon us, but I can’t help thinking that everyone but Klopp will welcome it this time.
There’s still time to save October when the team host Manchester United at Anfield in two weeks time. And what better time to start winning than against your high-flying arch-rivals.