Miles Starforth's match analysis: Liverpool 2 Newcastle United 0

Fortune, it's said, favours the brave.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 5th March 2018, 11:00 am
Liverpool's Dejan Lovren (left) and Newcastle United's Jacob Murphy battle for the ball.
Liverpool's Dejan Lovren (left) and Newcastle United's Jacob Murphy battle for the ball.

Newcastle United were looking for a first Premier League win at Anfield in 24 years.

But, in truth, that record was never going to change. Not this time.

This game was close for a while, but not that close over 90 bitterly cold minutes.

Liverpool won 2-0, but the margin of victory could have been greater, much greater.

Newcastle, like they have done several times this season against the league’s better teams, kept the score down in front of their 2,900-strong travelling support, but it wasn’t a spectacle.

When Rafa Benitez handed in his teamsheet, it appeared that he had gone with an attacking line-up, but at kick-off time it was clear he had opted for a five-man defence in an attempt to stifle Jurgen Klopp’s free-scoring team.

There was pace in the team – Benitez included three wingers in his starting XI at a windswept but snow-free Anfield – but would United be a threat on the counter-attack?

The gameplan worked, more or less, for 40 minutes, though Dwight Gayle was isolated up front.

Liverpool probed and pressed their visitors, but United blocked, tackled and headed their way through the half, and just when the break was seemingly in sight, Mohamed Salah struck after a break forward from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Oxlade-Chamberlain’s run had pulled Benitez’s team out of shape and left Salah unmarked.

That’s something you just can’t do.

Salah’s shot through the legs of Martin Dubravka to put Liverpool ahead.

Had Loris Karius not kept out Mohamed Diame’s shot from distance late in the half, the outcome could have been different, but Liverpool always looked like they had more to give in this game.

Sadio Mane finished a flowing move forward 10 minutes into the second half to put the game beyond United.

Newcastle, at least, were fortunate that referee Graham Scott didn’t send off captain Jamaal Lascelles for a late challenge on Salah just outside the box.

Klopp – who felt his team should have had a penalty earlier in the game – was furious.

Better United teams have suffered far heavier defeats at Anfield, so did Benitez do the right thing?

Had Newcastle gone for it, they would, most likely, have been picked off a lot earlier and left Anfield with a worse goal difference.

That’s the calculation Benitez made when he strung five along his defence.

Of the Premier League’s bottom eight teams, only Southampton have a better goal difference.

United manager, however, would also have hoped for more from his team when he did have the ball. They lost it time and again. They were too careless.

Kenedy was erratic and wasteful, while Christian Atsu and Jacob Murphy never got into their stride.

Mikel Merino tried to be positive, though a lack of starts in recent months seemed to catch up with him.

Up front, Gayle – who had scored two goals against the previous weekend – was more careful with the ball, but he didn’t see enough of it.

United now have nine games left and 27 points available to them.

The next two fixtures – the home games against relegation rivals Southampton and Huddersfield – are pivotal.

They could make or break this team’s survival hopes.

Two wins would go a long, long way to securing the club’s top-flight status, but few who have watched Newcastle against the Premier League’s lesser teams this season would stake much on back-to-back wins.

Benitez won’t change his approach. Will fortune favour the pragmatic?