Liverpool closed out the dreary calendar year of 2020 with a suitably woeful attacking away performance. With one of the deadliest frontlines in world football not being able to find the back of the net against a defensively resilient Newcastle side, Jürgen Klopp and his supporters may look back at this game as another fixture that has costed them dearly in the title race.
Much was made of the return of Thiago Alcântara to the matchday squad before the game, who was only fit enough to feature on the bench for the Reds, but James Milner did find himself in the starting eleven after recovering from a hamstring injury. The biggest change came in the form of Nathaniel Phillips who was put in the team ahead of Rhys Williams – these being the only two fit recognised centre-backs in the Liverpool squad, albeit as youthful players.
Phillips exhibited many signs of what naivety as a young player can look like as his pace, or lack thereof, was exposed many times throughout the 90 minutes as Callum Wilson found himself in many promising positions – one of them being in the 13th minute when a hopeful ball forward from Matthew Longstaff was taken up by Wilson who beat Phillips in the footrace and weaved on the inside of the defender.
If not for Fabinho covering to make the interception when Wilson let fly inside the penalty area, the Magpies may very well have taken an early lead.
Arguably the biggest chance in the game for Liverpool fell to the feet of their top scorer Mohammed Salah who was in on goal one-on-one thanks to a superb ball forward diagonally across the pitch from left to right. Inside the 18-yard-box there are not too many forwards in world football who you would feel you could feel with confidence would convert their chances in that position more than the Egyptian – today Karl Darlow got the faintest of touches to keep the game at a deadlock in the 34th minute.
With halftime looming and chances for both sides being in short supply, it was in the single minute of stoppage time that Darlow had to make another sublime stop to deny Liverpool a lead again. Sadio Mané, on his weaker foot, outside the box crossed the ball over the Newcastle defenders and under no pressure Roberto Firmino headed the ball on target but too close to Darlow.
For a goalkeeper being brought in to cover for the usual no. 1, Martin Dúbravka, the saves made in the first half may have given manager Steve Bruce much to ponder for his selection in the future.
Half time: Newcastle United 0-0 Liverpool
The second half continued with much of what the first half displayed; a lack of creativity and lacklustre finishing from Liverpool’s forward line as, yet again, Salah was through in on goal as Firmino skipped past the Newcastle midfield to thread his pass into the winger’s path who dribbles the ball onto his favoured left foot and beating Ciaran Clark. With only the keeper to beat, Salah only can fire wide of the target – another let-off for Newcastle.
The previous chance came in the 65th minute and only two minutes later the man who put Salah in on goal would have another big chance. With most of the Newcastle defenders preoccupied and Fabian Schär doing a less than convincing job putting off the Brazilian, Firmino rose highest and had a free header and an open goal to aim at as Darlow was busy tracking the movement of Mané and Phillips.
In the 79th minute, Newcastle had their best chance of the game – Matt Ritchie from a set-piece ball into the box that Clark met that had Alisson scrambling to save acrobatically to keep the scoreline level.
The next big chance would come two minutes after, once again, as the introduction of Thiago set off Alexander-Arnold on a brilliant run but the cross into the box was too powerful for Mané to control and the shot was straight at Darlow and even though the ricochet came off of Schär and almost led to an own goal, the Swiss international recovered to clear just in the nick of time.
The last big chance of the game would test the Newcastle keeper once again. Going for broke in the 88th minute, Robertson’s corner kick goes through a swarm of heads and bodies to connect with Firmino’s eyebrows.
Directing the shot low and with power, Darlow matched the effort once again impressively – undoubtedly the best save of the night.
More dropped points and no goals to be scored by Klopp’s men will be worrying for the German manager but no one can deny the performance of the Newcastle goalkeeper was so unbelievable, Liverpool could have possibly played for another hour and still may not convert their chances.
The incentive does go to Manchester United who can now go level on points with the champions, and with an away game at St. Mary’s against Southampton coming up for the Reds there is nothing at all guaranteed in this Premier League season whether you are the league champions or not.
Full time: Newcastle United 0-0 Liverpool
Newcastle United: Darlow (9), Clark (7), Fernandez (8), Schär (8), Yedlin (8), Matthew Longstaff (7), Hayden (6), Ritchie (7), Joelinton (6), Wilson (7), Murphy (6).
Subs: Lewis (n/a), Almiron (6).
Liverpool: Alisson (7), Alexander-Arnold (5), Phillips (5), Fabinho (6), Robertson (7), Jones (6), Henderson (7), Milner (6), Salah (5), Firmino (6), Mané (5).
Subs: Wijnaldum (6), Thiago (7), Shaqiri (n/a).
Man of the Match: Karl Darlow