One step forward, two steps back. That’s a little how things feel for Liverpool at the moment. For every crushing victory over the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City there is a disappointing loss to a team that Liverpool really shouldn’t be struggling against.
If lessons were learnt when Liverpool lost 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace then it appears they’ve been promptly forgotten. Alan Pardew’s former club offered an awful lot less than his current side, yet both were able to take all three points from their games against the Reds.
Did Steve McClaren get Newcastle fighting, like cornered rats knowing it was their only chance of survival? Or were Liverpool just not good enough on the day to ask any serious questions of a side that have only won two games all season?
As always we’ll have a look at some of the key points from yesterday’s game, exploring some of the positives as well as the negatives. Were the resurgent Reds outplayed or was it simply a bad day at the office? Let us know your thoughts, either by leaving us a comment under the article or by tweeting @andcouldheplay7.
Allen Key, Coutinho Crucial
Let’s start with something of a positive, the performance of Joe Allen.
There are a number of reasons why Joe Allen doesn’t get the credit he deserves. For many he is the on-pitch manifestation of everything that was wrong with the Brendan Rodgers era of life at Liverpool Football Club. Possession for possession’s sake; pretty passing with no end product; over-blown titles like ‘The Welsh Xavi’ before anything has been achieved.
Despite there being plenty of Liverpool players left from Brendan Rodgers’ time at the club Allen remains the most obvious link to the former boss thanks to their time together at Swansea. Both were, say their critics, promoted above their station.
The reality is, though, that Joe Allen does a very good job when he’s put into the Liverpool team. He isn’t flashy or full of exciting twists and turns. He doesn’t constantly set-up goals or score absolute worldies. But what he does do is keep the game ticking over nicely, break up play by being in the right place at the right time and generally just ensure that Liverpool are always involved in the fight in the middle of the park.
Allen isn’t a glamour player so he’ll never get the credit he deserves, but he was quietly excellent in that half.
— Adam Smith (@Adam_Smith_82) December 6, 2015
Against Newcastle Allen barely put a foot wrong, misplacing one of two passes out of the numerous he attempted and have a shot that missed the target being about the worst of his crimes. He wasn’t helped by being in a midfield that consisted of Lucas Leiva having his worst game in a Liverpool shirt for some years and James Milner grafting hard but failing to produce anything of note.
Had Philippe Coutinho been in the middle of the park alongside Allen, perhaps instead of Milner, we almost certainly would have seen an entirely different game from Liverpool. Allen isn’t the provider, but he often provides the provider. Having him alongside the injured Brazilian, winning the ball and passing it off to his team mate to allow him to cause trouble, would have offered the Reds a nice balance between industry and creativity.
Creativity is one of the things that Liverpool are lacking the most at the moment and Coutinho’s absence was felt starkly on Sunday afternoon. There’s plenty to be admired about what Joe Allen was offering on the pitch, with the midfielder probably most people’s Man Of The Match from a Liverpool point of view. But the Reds are never going to threaten the opposition’s defence sufficiently if everything is down to the Welshman to create.
Liverpool’s squad is arguably stronger than it has been at any other time in recent years. The depth of quality that Klopp has available to him should offer some excellent encouragement to the new manager and fans alike. He’ll almost certainly want to be given some more creative options when the transfer window opens in January, however. Too often too much of Liverpool’s best work seems to be down to the mercurial Philippe Coutinho to produce. He is a world class talent, of course, so that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Yet it’s worrying how little the Reds seem capable of producing without him on the pitch.
Firmino seems entirely lost without his compatriot alongside him, not grafting hard enough and having no real connection with Benteke to write home about. If Liverpool can have a choice from Allen, Henderson and Milner to do the graft and Coutinho, Lallana and Ibe to produce the creativity then they should be ok moving forward. Allen showed those that were willing to watch without the anti-Rodgers blinkers on that he has what it takes to play for this Liverpool side. Now he just needs someone alongside him with the ability to produce a bit of piano playing after the Welshman’s carried it to the right spot.
Title Challenge Wake Up Call?
In recent years it feels as if the Liverpool fan base isn’t happy unless it’s arguing amongst itself. From the supporters that believed the newspapers and felt that Rafa Benitez wasn’t good enough to manage Liverpool despite being in the middle of over-seeing a title challenge, through to those that paid for banners to be flown over Anfield with #RODGERSOUT written on them, we only seem to be happy when we’re unhappy.
It has been something of an uneasy truce since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp seemed to unite the fan base, with plenty of supporters itching for a reason to get confrontational with their fellow Liverpool fans. The latest reason for a fallout has been building and building in recent weeks, though, as the German seemed to be getting Liverpool geared up enough to offer a title challenge of their own.
A 3-1 win over Chelsea, a 4-1 win over Manchester City and a 6-1 win over Southampton as well as progress in the Europa League meant that one half of the Liverpool supporting public began to dream of the title, whilst the other ceased upon their opportunity to criticise the more positive-minded within the group.
Now hopefully Liverpool fans will stop this nonsense about winning the league this year
— John Jones (@JohnJonesDOD) December 6, 2015
“Can we stop this ridiculous talk of a title challenge now please?”, came the cry after the second Newcastle goal went in. Yet is it really all that ridiculous? Did Manchester City fans say the same thing after we spanked them at their place? How about when Stoke beat them at the weekend?
Liverpool are nine points of the team at the top of the Premier League with 23 games still to play. It’s also worth noting that the team in question is Leicester City, a side that only avoided relegation last season because of a tremendous run towards the end of the campaign. It’s reasonably safe to assume, then, that they won’t last the distance. Even if they did, though, Liverpool still have to play them twice, so two wins would see the Reds just three points away from them if other fixtures went in our favour.
What of the other favourites for the title race? We’re six points shy of both Manchester clubs and seven away from Arsenal with all of them still having to travel to Anfield. If we are able to sort out our home form and beat them at our place then we’ll be three and four points off the pace respectively.
Which other team in the Premier League is an out and out runaway favourite for the title? City are just as likely to cop a poor result as we are, whilst United seem to be trying to bore their way to the title with as many draws as are physically possible. Arsenal are perhaps best placed but, you know, it’s Arsenal.
The idea that Sunday was a ‘wake up call’ as far as title talk is concerned is a nonsense. If those that want to be swapped along with the possibility of a title challenge aren’t allowed to claim it’s definitely on after we beat Southampton 6-1 at St. Mary’s then those who are against it don’t get to use a 2-0 loss to Newcastle as definitive proof that it definitely isn’t on. We aren’t yet even halfway through the season, yet some people want to write it off? What’s the point?
When Jurgen Klopp arrived to take on the Liverpool hot seat he said we needed to change from doubters to believers. What exactly are we believing in if it isn’t the possibility of a league title?
Benteke Out Of Place
Perhaps it’s that he isn’t getting the right sort of service. Maybe it’s because Newcastle knew what to do to disrupt his game. It could be because he hasn’t started regularly since recovering from injury and isn’t in a decent rhythm. Whatever the reason, there’s something wrong with Christian Benteke.
Against Newcastle the big Belgian striker offered little to nothing. He was static, slow, seemingly on the back foot and unable to get Liverpool’s game going from the front. Whilst Jordan Ibe buzzed all over the pitch, trying to find openings and looking for movement from the central striker, Benteke failed to give the youngster any decent options.
At this point I genuinely don’t know what service Benteke is after.
— StatsAndSwearwords (@SimonBrundish) December 7, 2015
With Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi showing the manager that they have what it takes to cause opposition defences some real trouble during the game against Southampton in the League Cup in midweek, the gauntlet was thrown down for Benteke to show what he can do. The answer, sadly, seems to be ‘not much’.
The former Aston Villa man has shown some brilliant play at times since his £32.5 million move in the summer, scoring some superb and important goals. His over head kick against Manchester United may have proven to be nothing more than a consolation goal, but it was also a genuinely brilliant one and deservedly earned the striker the goal of the month trophy.
Yet too often he seems to miss the easier chances when they present themselves. There was a moment against Newcastle when he seemed to get on to the end of his own knock down with the ball about two yards away from the goal line, only to see his shot blasted over the bar.
Jurgen Klopp said recently that his former striker, Robert Lewandowski, wouldn’t have become the world class player he is today if he’d been plying his trade in the Premier League because nobody has any patience to let players develop. After the performance at St. James’ Park many would be forgiven for asking how long the German manager plans to give Benteke to develop. If he continues to offer so little as far as Klopp’s most important tactics such as pressing and fighting are concerned then it’s difficult to see him lasting the distance.