Feet firmly planted back on the ground, then. Liverpool came in with their strongest squad of the season (which wasn't really that strong) and looking to build on two consecutive league wins, but instead come away with only a point against a resilient and hard-working Newcastle side that spend 50-plus minutes with only ten men. It wasn't a complete catastrophe, just one that underlined the areas in which Liverpool still need to improve and reminded us that the problem with thinking things might be nice is that THEY'RE JUST NOT OKAY?
Newcastle United 2: Cabaye 23', Dummet 56'
Liverpool 2: Gerrard (pen) 42', Sturridge 72'
With Lucas's wife giving birth to a baby girl overnight and Jose Enrique continuing to labor (just go with it) with an injured knee, Brendan Rodgers opted to bring Glen Johnson straight in upon his return, with Aly Cissokho replacing Enrique at left wingback and Jordan Henderson again operating centrally alongside Steven Gerrard. All others remained the same, as did the formation for the third successive match, leaving Liverpool without a functional midfield and a number ten in Victor Moses who increasingly looks incapable of performing the duties asked of him in such a role. Neat.
From a Liverpool perspective it was a sloppy opening half on all counts; the budding partnership between Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez was stunted, the defense uncertain, and little to indicate that the 3-5-2 was moving forward. Newcastle's goal was entirely deserved given the run of play; Yohan Cabaye's swerving drive from thirty yards beat an unsighted Simon Mignolet at the far post, with both Cissokho and Mamadou Sakho retreating from Cabaye and neither of Steven Gerrard nor Jordan Henderson around to close down the space.
Thankfully Sturridge's inch-perfect ball over the top found Suarez streaking into the Newcastle penalty area on 40 minutes, and a delicate first touch from Suarez forced a clumsy challenge from Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa that resulted in a sending off for the defender and a penalty for Liverpool. Gerrard calmly rolled it past Tim Krul for his 100th Premier League goal, setting the stage for Liverpool to overwhelm their hosts as the second half got underway.
Unfortunately that never really happened, with Newcastle again nudging ahead, this time when substitute Paul Dummett was left unmarked at the back post on a Cabaye free-kick to slot home with his left foot. Fifteen minutes later Liverpool drew level through Sturridge, who headed in a cross from Luis Suarez on the near side after Victor Moses had played the Uruguayan in. Suarez went close minutes later, lashing an unstoppable volley off the top side of the crossbar, and Sturridge fluffed a few chances down the stretch as Liverpool huffed and puffed but ultimately had to settle--and feel a little fortunate--for a point.
Anybody seasoned in the art of the guilt trip will know that the appropriate response here is one of disappointment rather than anger. Guess it's our fault for having such high hopes for you Liverpool. We're not mad at you. Really. It's just that we really believe in you, and it seemed like you were giving us plenty of reasons for that belief. And now, up a man for a majority of the match, you didn't do what we expected. Swear, I'm not angry with you. Just disappointed.
Except in Luis Alberto, that sweet, perfect, scary calm, tattooed, dolphin-kissing angel.
Which gives way to a more serious point, in that there are some factors within Brendan Rodgers' control that aren't really working right now. Injuries and need for one or two additional squad members is one thing, but sticking with choices that aren't really working is another. A functional midfield would be nice. Not jamming Moses into a role for which he is clearly unsuited is another. Failing to make any sort of discernible adjustment until Mamadou Sakho was forced off through injury also falls into that category.
It doesn't all fall on Rodgers, of course, as there were a number of letdowns in the squad. Daniel Sturridge was nowhere near as incisive or impactful as he's been, Moses was only effective when wide or if given space to run with the ball at his feet, and Aly Cissokho proved he's not ready to replace Jose Enrique with any sort of consistency. The rest were passable, with Steven Gerrard having one of his more effective matches going forward--unsurprising given the time and space he was allowed--and Luis Suarez energetic throughout. And, as mentioned, Alberto was very encouraging, possibly doing enough to justify a spot in the eleven next weekend against West Brom.
Liverpool very well could have rescued all three points today had Sturridge converted or Suarez curled past Krul with the final kick of the match, just as they could have dropped all three had Newcastle successfully finished off one of their late, dangerous counters. Not awful, not terrific, just disappointing. And the issues remain regardless of the result, as it's not whining for the sake of whining to point out just how inconsistent Liverpool have been, and how their spells of ineptitude today were so strikingly similar to displays from earlier this season.
We can take heart in their league standing and the ability to earn points despite the problems, and there's hope that once they do start to click, they'll really be rolling. Waiting for that is awfully tough, however, especially when we're not exactly certain what we'll be getting from one match--or one half--to the next.