Many expected the Magpies to find themselves on the end of another trouncing by the final whistle and with good reason; Newcastle were hit for five by Crystal Palace last weekend, making their goals conceded record the worst in the Premier League, whilst Liverpool battered Southampton 6-1 in the midweek Capital One Cup action.
Both sides entered the fixture with completely polarised form, but in the predictably unpredictable world of the Premier League, absolutely nothing is certain.
And rather than picking up another loss, the Toon surprised everybody by beating Jurgen Klopp’s side courtesy of two goals from summer signing Georginio Wijnaldum – although the first will probably be counted as an own goal after taking a deflection of Martin Skrtel.
So apart from a reminder that the Premier League is indeed the most competitive top flight in world football, what did we learn from today’s game? Here are Football Fancast’s three biggest lessons.
Before today’s game, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp found himself privy to an embarrassment of riches up front.
Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi scored five goals between them in midweek, versatile forward Roberto Firmino proved tactically expedient in impressive wins against Chelsea and Manchester City, whilst Christian Benteke’s return of four goals in eight Premier League starts is certainly nothing to be sniffed at for a big man.
Perhaps due to Sturridge only recently returning from injury and Origi still developing physically at the age of 20, Klopp chose Benteke to lead the line against the Magpies with Firmino playing out wide.
But the Belgium international, not for the first time since Klopp’s arrival, desperately struggled to have an impact. He recorded the fewest touches of any starter for Liverpool, the fewest passes of any outfield player and recorded just one shot at goal before being hauled off after an hour.
Likewise, the £32million signing’s solitary effort was an absolute howler – skied over the bar from two yards out when a simple toe poke would have put it over the line.
Benteke’s performance was by no means abysmal, but there was a drastic difference between Liverpool’s somewhat static attack this afternoon and the relentless pace and energy that destroyed Manchester City’s defence in November. At the moment, it feels like Benteke doesn’t quite fit the Klopp philosophy.
There was one notable omission from the Liverpool team sheet this afternoon, barring the aforementioned Sturridge and Origi. After picking up a hamstring injury, star midfielder Philippe Coutinho was ruled out of the 4pm meet at St. James’s Park.
The Brazil international’s absence was sorely felt. He’s scored the most goals, claimed the most assists and recorded the most successful dribbles per match (2.2) of any Liverpool player in the Premier League this season, and the rest of the Reds struggled to fill his talismanic void in attack. .
Indeed, they created just nine scoring chances against a resilient Newcastle defence and recorded an underwhelming ten successful dribbles. But more than simply statistics, it was the inability for one player to take the game by the scruff of the neck – as Coutinho has done consistently over the last few weeks – that was truly missing at St. James’ Park.
There’s a great debate about where Coutinho ranks in world football’s attacking midfield elite. I won’t delve into that now, but Liverpool’s struggles this afternoon proved that he is certainly their most important player at the minute.
Many had tipped this game as a bit of a write-off for the Magpies. They’d claimed just eight points from their previous eleven Premier League fixtures, conceding the most goals of any side in the division in the process, whilst Liverpool had enjoyed five straight wins across all competitions.
And although the Reds struggled to hit top gear during the 2-0 defeat, there is no questioning the vast improvements made by Newcastle since their 5-1 thumping by Crystal Palace last weekend.
The Magpies were organised, motivated, disciplined and aggressive and didn’t let their heads drop even when facing huge pressure from Liverpool’s attack during the first half hour. It proved something we’ve all known for a long time; a lack of quality isn’t holding the Tyneside club back – but the attitudes of certain players is.
Facing heavyweight opponents and live on Sky Sports, Newcastle’s big players turned up today and carried the weak links with them. Summer signing Georginio Wijnaldum, for example, netted twice, whilst Moussa Sissoko grabbed an assist and captain Fabricio Coloccini was superb at the heart of defence.
If Newcastle are to avoid relegation this season, they need those three players to be having an impact every week. Today’s result proved they can – if they’re in the right mindset.