Liverpool 1: Suarez 67'
Newcastle 1: Cabaye 43'
Little changed today, from the starting lineup for Liverpool to the product that was produced on the pitch. Neither of Pepe Reina or Glen Johnson was fit, leaving roles open for Brad Jones and Jose Enrique, and the rest of Brendan Rodgers' eleven is what we've seen for most of the season. Youngsters on either side of Luis Suarez, Joe Allen holding, and Steven Gerrard and Nuri Sahin responsible for driving forward from the midfield.
That drive, both from the midfield and the rest of the squad, nearly paid off in an opening ten minutes that saw Liverpool completely pin their guests back. Raheem Sterling ran rampant down the left, and a series of quick interplays and crisp passes created some of the most exciting buildup Liverpool's managed this season. No final product early, but a display that was consistent with a pre-match atmosphere that saw Anfield bustling and the supporters in full voice.
As is so often the case, though, a period of pressure and dominance gives way to a relative dry spell in which the opposition packs the area and asks serious questions of Liverpool's ability to be creative. The hosts couldn't yet again, and as the first half settled in it seemed less a matter of when a goal would but if. It was an all to familiar scene, with moments of excitement around the final third and couple of close scrapes for either side but no final product.
But the narrative isn't the narrative unless it continues, and in the 43rd minute Yohan Cabaye made sure Liverpool didn't forget that they're living Groundhog Day each and every time they take the pitch. It was a different angle but very nearly a replica of what happened on the opening day of the season at West Brom--corner cleared away, controlled first touch, arrowed volley past a helpless goalkeeper. Both Andre Wisdom and Brad Jones could have done better, though little could be argued about the quality of the control and strike by the French midfielder.
It's hard to say if it's a good or bad thing that Liverpool are at least familiar with needing to come back from adversity; they've been in a position of having to respond to something negative so often that it's almost second nature. Dominate play, create a few good chances, concede a goal and the lead on the opposition's first chance. So at least we knew that as far as a response went, Liverpool are well-versed in knowing what to do.
That didn't lead to anything immediately, but after Jonjo Shelvey came on for Suso--who'd done well to that point--the hosts were more threatening, and the equalizer came with just over twenty minutes to play. That had nothing to do with Shelvey or Suso or anyone else, however. Just Jose Enrique lofting a long pass to an onrushing Luis Suarez, who controlled magnificently with his chest, coolly took a touch around Tim Krul, and walked it into an empty net all within a matter of seconds. It was breathless stuff, and the type of goal that should have spurred Liverpool on to victory.
It nearly did minutes later, as the Uruguayan created a chance for Shelvey after dancing around multiple Newcastle defenders. Suarez put it on a plate for the young midfielder, but all he could muster was a tame poke that Krul quickly pounced upon. A rightful sending off for Fabricio Colocinni followed for a dangerous challenge on Suarez, and it seemed only a matter of time. Two more chances would come for Shelvey, and all three proved to be the best chances Liverpool would have after Suarez leveled. None were taken, and it's another two points lost for Liverpool in a match most will feel they should have won.
Praising the performances of the team as a whole and the individuals involved feels hollow, even if there was some very encouraging play on the day. Each of the forward men gave a solid account of themselves, with Suarez terrorizing on surely tired legs and getting the amazing goal, Sterling resurgent after fading over his past few appearances, and Suso showing skill and intelligence in possession. Sterling very well could have had the go-ahead goal on a break but took one touch too many, allowing Ryan Taylor time to recover with a perfectly-timed slide tackle; otherwise neither looked particularly dangerous in front of goal, with Suso cutting in and forcing a few corners.
The midfield was a mixed bag, as it's been recently--Joe Allen distributed well but looked sloppy and tired at times, Nuri Sahin was more visible but still not as influential, and Steven Gerrard had moments that defied explanation on both ends of the spectrum. Same goes for the defense, who were anchored by Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel but nearly undone by moments of indecision from Andre Wisdom and just plain bad decisions from Jose Enrique. This side needs stability at the back and through the middle, and a goalscoring threat for support up top, and right now they have neither.
I really wish we could start to draw some conclusions about Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers, but what frustrates right now is that Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers looks like Liverpool under every Liverpool manager since the 2009-2010 season. The style of play has changed, but the inability to get goals remains. More possession or dominance here or there, and variable quality in the personnel, but the same story. Always.
January may very well provide relief and signal an acceleration in the club's progress, but there's very real tests on the more immediate horizon. A long trip to Russia midweek, and then a very huge-feeling matchup with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge next Sunday. Let's hope that the progress that's possible in the short-term leaves Liverpool in better stead over their next two, and throughout a challenging two months before the new year.