Divock Origi’s late winner clinched a vital win for Liverpool over Newcastle United at St James’ Park on Saturday night. Goals from Christian Atsu and Salomon Rondon twice pegged back the Reds after Virgil Van Dijk and Mohamed Salah had put them in front, before Origi came up trumps yet again.
Reds emerge victorious despite Rafa’s best efforts to be the party pooper…
Many people predicted that this would be a tight game which wouldn’t be decided until the last half an hour. That prediction was mostly right, apart from not accounting for the four goals scored before the hour mark and the numerous others that could also have found the net.
Liverpool fans were hoping on the slim chance that Rafa Benitez’s team might roll over for the manager’s former side, but unsurprisingly the hosts were right up for it, playing their final home game of the season.
The Reds made the perfect start thanks to Van Dijk’s textbook definition of a free header. But soon Atsu pegged them back, and even when Salah made it 2-1, Rondon later made it 2-2.
One of the golden rules of football is going up by two goals, and Sadio Mane and Daniel Sturridge both had glorious opportunities to put their side 3-1 up – chances they were unable to take and Rondon made them pay.
Salah then went off after a nasty blow to the head and all of a sudden Liverpool, in desperate need of a goal, looked a million miles away from getting one. Newcastle probably even looked the more likely to find the next goal, but in football, it only takes one set-piece for a match and a season to change.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s delivery was perfect, and it landed right onto the head of the man for the big occasion: Origi. The eight minutes of stoppage time, that originally was a good thing, were soon dreaded. Jürgen Klopp’s side hung on, despite Rafa’s best efforts. It was Liverpool who won and returned to the top of the table.
Fabinho imperious while Trent lends a hand…
I’m 100% serious when I say there isn’t a defensive midfielder in world football that I would swap Fabinho for. When taking into account; ability, age, and all-round game he is simply the best.
Since settling in around Christmas time, Fabinho has been the Reds’ best midfielder and he showed why once again against Newcastle. The Brazilian offers such vital protection to an already strong defence, but is progressive and efficient with his passing as well.
He was also on hand to help with the aerial duels with Rondon, and of course, survived a brutal attack by Matt Ritchie to win his side the decisive free-kick from which Origi scored.
Trent Alexander-Arnold meanwhile is doing his best to catch up with Andy Robertson in their assist competition, with the Englishman now level on league assists with his teammate after collecting another two against the Toon.
The second in particular was exactly the kind of inch-perfect first-time cross that we have come to expect from Alexander-Arnold. He was also involved in what could have been a costly moment in the first half after he blocked Rondon’s goal-bound shot with his elbow – Atsu turning in the rebound preventing Trent from being sent-off. Thankfully this was the case and he was on the pitch to assist Salah and help his team claim all three points.
Limited attacking squad depth still saving the day…
Quality of squad depth is probably the biggest difference between the teams of Liverpool and Manchester City – Riyad Mahrez, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus certainly stand out a bit more on the bench compared to Shaqiri, Origi, and Daniel Sturridge.
But it was the latter trio who all played their parts in Saturday’s win, and somehow the Reds’ limited attacking squad depth is still coming up with game-winning moments.
Sturridge was handed another league start amid Roberto Firmino’s continued absence, and was bright for the first half an hour, including a nice flick in the build-up to Salah’s goal.
Unfortunately, Sturridge was guilty of not tracking the run of Matt Ritchie in Newcastle’s first goal and was fairly anonymous after the break. Shaqiri and Origi combined for Liverpool’s all-important third goal.
It was the second time in two league matches that Shaqiri has come off the bench and had a hand in the build-up to a goal. The Reds’ substitutes have scored 12 goals this campaign, more than any other side in the division, and this is just one of the key components that a title-winning team needs.
Win sets up the week of all weeks…
Monday night. Brendan Rodgers. Jamie Vardy. Leicester City. We move. Once again, Liverpool have done the business required and it’s up to Man City to (hopefully not) respond.
The game kicks off what will be the defining week in the Reds’ season, with the Barcelona second-leg on Tuesday and then the Premier League’s conclusion on Sunday.
If a team is going to take points off City it is going to be a side that can attack them and score goals, not one that will park the bus from minute one. Leicester, fortunately, are a side that can score goals and are in good form.
If Rodgers can mastermind at least a draw, he will be at least 95% forgiven by Liverpool fans. And if we then beat Wolves, he can even have a Premier League winners medal if he wants.
Monday’s result will also decide what kind of a team Klopp uses on Tuesday. If Man City drop points, the Barcelona game is almost irrelevant as Sunday would be a priority. But for now, all we can do is pray. Pray that Vardy has the party of all parties on Monday night.