As September turned to October, the Premier League had its last round of fixtures before the second international break of the season; determining which nations will head straight to Russia next summer or will see their fate decided in the dreaded play-offs. Burnley have now scored more points away from home than they did last season following their 1-0 win at Goodison Park against Everton, Kevin De Bruyne scored a big goal as Manchester City defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Crystal palace still have zero goals and points following their 4-0 defeat at Manchester United and Harry Kane ended the month with 13 goals in all competitions for club and country after scoring a brace as Tottenham Hotspur won 4-0 at Huddersfield Town.
In the final game of the weekend, Newcastle United hosted Liverpool at St James Park in the Sunday 4.30pm kick-off. Rafa Benitez was facing Liverpool for the fifth time since he left Anfield in 2009 and made two changes to the starting line up that lost at Brighton. Chancel Mbemba was not in the squad and Isaac Hayden was placed on the substitutes bench. Two former Liverpool players came into the starting 11 with Javier Manquillo starting at left-back and Jonjo Shelvey partnered Mikel Merino in central midfield.
Jurgen Klopp stuck to his goalkeeping rotation policy with Simon Mingolet starting in goal with a back four in front of him consisting of Joseph Gomez, Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno. Klopp went with an aggressive 4-3-3 formation with former Newcastle man Giorginio Wijnaldum playing on the right of the midfield three with Phillipe Coutinho on the left and ex-Sunderland man Jordan Henderson in the centre. The attacking trio saw two changes from the side that won at Leicester with Roberto Firmino and Emre Can making way for Daniel Sturridge and Saido Mane who had now returned from his suspension for that high-footed challenge on Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson.
Both sets of players and supporters respectively undertook a minutes applause in memory of former Newcastle United Chairman Freddie Sheppard who passed away during the week preceding the game. After that, it was time for the game!
The opening exchanges at St James’ Park was almost end to end action with Newcastle pressing their opponents and forging a couple of opportunities while Liverpool looked dangerous on the break. Mingolet was equal to early efforts from Shelvey, Lascelles and Ritchie while Mohamed Salah was Liverpool’s attacking outlet on the counter. His pace enabled him to cause Newcastle problems time and time again as Mane and Sturridge failed to convert early chances he forged. Sturridge also tried to claim for a penalty after his shot was blocked by Lascelles onto his trailing arm; surely the Newcastle captain knew nothing about that.
Liverpool should have taken the lead 25 minutes in after they did all but find the back of the net from a Coutinho corner. Wijnalduum headed the delivery onto the near post with Elliott beaten. The defence struggled to clear their lines and Lovren’s attempt on goal was cleared off the line by Yedlin before Mane hit the side netting. It was hard to believe Liverpool had not scored there but they would soon have their goal. Ritchie’s headed clearance came out to the feet of Coutinho was afforded acres of space to eventually unleash a stunning, curling effort past Elliott and into the top corner of the Gallowgate net.
Having conceded, Newcastle needed to be resolute to stay in the game and found an equalise only seven minutes later against the run of play. Coming from their area, Ritchie passed centrally to Shelvey who played a sublime 45 yard forward pass to pick out Joselu one on one with Mingolet. It seemed to have taken one too many touches as Matip closed him down and slid in to challenge for the ball. His challenge however only succeeded in sending the ball off the Spaniard’s knee and past Mingolet for a fortunate equaliser.
Mane and Salah swapped flanks for Liverpool so Salah was now attacking down their left flank. It almost paid dividends six minutes into the half as his pass aimed for Sturridge landed at the striker’s feet courtesy of a Ciaran Clark miscued clearance. Elliott was on hand to keep the England International out. Much of the attacking action came from Liverpool with Sturridge continually being found offside. Klopp sent on Dominic Solanke and Roberto Firmino before Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain who is yet to justify his £40 million price-tag. Solanke and Chamberlain both headed chances wide in the closing 10 minutes and Lovren had an earlier effort cleared off the line by Shelvey. Ayoze Perez tried a teasing volley with Mingolet off his line in injury time while the final corner of the game aw Minglet thankful Diame’s effort deflected into his hands.
The defending on display from Newcastle was for the most part impressive. It was a real team effort but they defended to the last man quite literally with both DeAndre Yedlin and Jonjo Shelvey clearing off the line. It can be argued Newcastle rode their lick but where one player faulted, another was there to cover and make amends. Everyone was on the top of their game and played their part defensively particular I the second half when the match was almost one-way traffic in Liverpool’s favour. If they can demonstrate such work-ethic and teamwork like that throughout the rest of the season then Newcastle will do well.
NUFC can compete
With the vast array of attacking talent at Jurgen Klopp’s disposal such as Saido Mane, Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firminio and Phillipe Coutinho, many would have expected newly promoted sides such as Newcastle to crumble, particularly in the final stages of the contest. Rafa’s Newcastle did not and could have nicked it at the death through Mohamed Diame. there were glimpses of this on the opening day against Tottenham but against Liverpool, this Newcastle United side demonstrated they can compete with the best of the Premier League on the pitch / That is something that would not surprise a number of Newcastle fans as in previous seasons it is the lesser teams that have been the Achilles heal. In the relegation season, Newcastle was the only team to do the league double over Tottenham, but the only team to fail to beat lowly Aston Villa at the same time. Even, in the Championship they lost to Blackburn Rovers home and away but beat Brighton twice. Consistency is the key word going forward, that’s what we want to see.
We saw Jonjo Shelvey and Mikel Merino partnered in central midfield from the start for the first time with the former getting his first start since the opening day of the season. The English midfielder displayed some exceptional long-range passing which Newcastle United fans have grown accustomed to since he joined the club in January 2016. Most of these long balls were aimed at stretching the Liverpool defence and mostly into the path of Matt Ritchie on the right wing which we saw plenty of in the Championship last season. The highlight of the performance though was that 45 yard through ball which split the Liverpool defence to find Joselu for the equaliser. For me, that is the pass of the season! Arguably, he deserved an England call-up more than Harry Winks off the back of this performance alone purely because he offers something different in an effective long ball. However, the lack of discipline may well have gone against him.
Ritchie’s work rate
Matt Ritchie has been praised for his creativity so far this season and following the display against Liverpool, it’s time for his work rate to come into focus. The winger covered the most ground of any player on the pitch at St James’ and was involved both up front and defensively. He had no big moment of highlights such as an assist, clearance off the line or a first goal of the season although he did test Mingolet a couple of times in the early exchanges. Overall though, Ritchie personified the all-round team performance.
Rob Elliott may feel he could have kept Coutinho’s strike out considering how agonisingly close he got his hand to it. I know I would if I was him. However, that would have been save of the season if he had, surely! However, the Ireland international has impressed me and did so again against Liverpool surely by now demonstrating just why Benitez handed him the number one jersey last season. His command of the penalty area was good and every ball he came out for early he got even if Sturridge was offside. Elliott pulled off a number of good stops to keep the scores level and was most notably the last line of defence in keeping out Sturridge after Clark had fluffed his clearance.
Josleu’s slice of luck
Joselu missed a handful of chances against Stoke and a sitter against Brighton in the previous two games. The Spanish striker surely needed a goal for his confidence but maybe he did not envisage it coming like that. There is no doubt about it, the equaliser was lucky with Joselu having taken a touch too many touches while through on goal, it looked like Matip would stop the striker. However, his challenge only sent the ball off the Newcastle mans leg lower leg and past Mingolet into the bottom corner of the net. From a Newcastle perspective it doesn’t matter how the goals are scored so long as the ball goes into the net but for Joseli, it was a reprieve, Surely next time, he would prefer to beat the goalkeeper himself for his third goal in black and white.
The atmosphere at St James’ park was phenomenal! The greatest I have seen for quite some time with both sets of supporters clearly up for it. Those are the best games; when the supporters show their deep passion, willing their team on and the players fighting as a team for the result. Now that is what football is all about. Also, it was a nice touch to see the sides paying their respects to former Newcastle United chairman Freddie Sheppard demonstrated yet again the level of respect between different sets of supporters as football fans annually show solidarity with Liverpool on the commemoration of Hillsborough.
Rafa Benitez’s popularity
You know when a manager is the focus of chants from both sets of fans, he has done something right. It does not happen often but it did for Benitez against his former club. Benitez won….trophies in five years at Liverpool including the clubs fifth European title on that unforgettable night in Istanbul. Liverpool fans clearly still love Benitez just as Newcastle United fans have since taken the Spaniard to their hearts; quite unlike Chelsea. If Liverpool’s owners were present or indeed any future owners were watching and decide to let Klopp go (The Bayern Munich job is available after all), they will know all too well just who the fans would want.
Speaking of potential new investors, present in the crowd was financier Amanda Stavely. Press speculation has surrounded the reason behind her attendance at St James’ Park with some news outlets such as Sky Sports believing her to have an interest in owning a Premier League club. The Newcastle Evening Chronicle even suggested she met with Rafa Benitez and the clubs hierarchy post-match. Whether or not Stavely is interested in Newcastle or there helping to broker one; it may well be the case that Mike Ashley has put the club up for sale again. The revelation that a number of potential investors have signed non-disclosure agreements suggest Ashley is keeping his cards close to his chest and not wanting anything to affect the action on the pitch as Newcastle United may well be up for sale again.
No immediate Mitrovic return
His three-game suspension was up but we did not see an immediate return to the matchday squad for Aleksandar Mitrovic. Instead, Benitez kept faith with Joselu and Dwight Gayle in his squad with the decision to retain the Spaniard being ultimately vindicated It may be too early to say if this s Benitez’s final straw with the Serbian striker who has now been suspended on three separate occasions under the Spaniard’s reign and only played on 31 occasions since the start of last season. He may well be back into contention after the international break as after all, he has missed the whole of September and matches fitness is something he might be shy on. Time will tell…
In particular, this negative focuses on the pressing in the Brazilian’s goal. Yes, I will say that again to avoid any doubt it was a stunning strike and an early goal of the month contender at the very least. However, from a defensive point of view, it was preventable. Coutinho first received the ball in acres of space. There was no one around him and the challenge from…coming from behind was poor and the pressing as the Brazilian continued towards the area from Shelvey and the defence was not good enough. If Shelvey pressed Coutinho instead of back-stepping then he does not have the space to get the shot away.
The Spanish U23 International was a relatively surprising alteration to the starting line up in place of Chancel Mbemba and for the first time this season, we saw the full-back playing on the left. I like the flexibility he brings to Benitez’s options in being able to play both sides of defence but I remain unconvinced by him. We saw mostly what we have already seen from the Spaniard this season. He is eager to get forward and assist in attacking moves which is a good thing but tracking back is not his strong point. Time and time again when Liverpool counter-attacked the attacks were aimed at his flank through Salah. Now, Salah is a quality player but Manquillo’s weak point seems to be the stamina required in going back and forth up and down the flank as expected of a modern-day full-back and if not for the defensive performance as a whole from the team, it could well have been costly.
|Shots on Target||5||2|
|Shots off target||1||9|
|Clear cut chances||0||1|
|Pass completion rate||66.4%||84%|
- This was the 45th meeting between Newcastle United and Liverpool in the Premier League but only the 10th time it has resulted in a draw.
- Despite the draw, Liverpool have still won the most Premier League meetings with 27 victories of the Black and White army (not scum as the Match of the Day subtitles editor accidentally had it).
- Jurgen Klopp has now faced Newcastle United three times as Liverpool manager; failing to win any of those meetings drawing two and losing one
- Since making his Liverpool debut, Coutinho has scored 17 goals from outside the box in the Premier League.
- Newcastle have now avoided defeat at home to Liverpool since the 6-0 thrashing in April 2013; winning two and drawing two at St James’ Park since then.
- Rafa Benitez remains undefeated against Liverpool in his managerial career and has now faced them five times.
- Joselu is yet to lose a Premier League game he has scored in winning five and drawing one.
The result left Newcastle United with 10 points in the Premier League and were 9th in the table with 10 points. They are 9 points adrift of the leading Manchester clubs and two adrift of Liverpool who dropped to 7th courtesy of goal difference as one of a trio of clubs on 12 points. Newcastle were also sat 5 points above the relegation places.
Next up for Benitez and co. after the international break is the long trip back down to the South Coast where Newcastle play Southampton at St Mary’s this time around with Mauricio Pellegrino’s (who will come up against his mentor for the first time) side sat 12th in the table on 8 points.