Liverpool 6: Agger 3', Henderson 17', Sturridge 54', 60', Borini 74', Henderson 76'
With Luis Suarez out, the most likely move was always going to be Daniel Sturridge in a straight-swap, which turned out to be the only change Brendan Rodgers made in terms of personnel. There was, however, a shift in the setup, with Jordan Henderson shifting left and Philippe Coutinho playing centrally, a switch that many have been calling for in recent weeks.
Any doubts about how Liverpool would cope with the Suarez-shaped hole in their eleven were erased almost immediately, as the visitor's pressure combined with farcical Newcastle defending to gift Daniel Agger a free header for the opener. Liverpool had already threatened in the opening minutes, and a quick cross back into the area by Stewart Downing found Agger--who'd smartly ghosted past a lazy opposition back line--to head in over a helpless Robert Elliot.
The Liverpool pressure and Newcastle capitulation continued from there, with the hosts seeing little of the ball and Liverpool adding another on a lightning-quick break. Sturridge's knock-down to Coutinho was received with just enough patience to allow for Sturridge to streak into space, and faced with a one-on-one with Elliot, the striker opted to play in Henderson, who'd followed play down the left and finished coolly with his left foot into an empty net.
Newcastle woke up as the first half wore on and looked destined to pull one back--Liverpool eased off the pressure, as they're so frustratingly wont to do, and the hosts pushed forward for the rest of the first half and the early part of the second. An exceedingly chippy end to the first half saw Andre Marriner book nearly everyone with a pulse except for the villainous Cheick Tiote, whose scrap with Glen Johnson should have seen both men sent off.
Thankfully the home side couldn't convert, and within ten minutes of the restart Liverpool put the match to rest. Philippe Coutinho won possession at midfield, carried it forward, and played an impossibly perfect pass through two defenders to Daniel Sturridge, who initially stalled but had enough composure to slash a left-footed strike past Elliot. He'd get his second six minutes later, as Steven Gerrard's lofted ball found Henderson on the near side and the midfielder passed across to the unmarked Sturridge, who had all the time in the world to slot home for Liverpool's fifth.
Two more would follow, first for Fabio Borini(!) after a wonderful cut-back from Stewart Downing, and then from Henderson, whose free-kick curled untouched into the netting on the far side. All that was remarkable from Newcastle was the foul preceding Henderson's second, which should have been a straight red for Mathieu Debuchy but resulted in a second yellow anyhow, and the manner in which they completely and utterly gave up.
We really couldn't have asked for much more after the week Liverpool had--the focus didn't really even snap into view until Daniel Agger put them in front in the third minute of the match, and from there it was finally easy once again to focus on the football. That they scored so freely was certainly aided by the disaster of a day that Newcastle had, but there was a lightness to the performance (especially after Sturridge's first goal) that was more than welcomed.
It'd be hard to overstate the impact of Philippe Coutinho, who readily exploited the space Newcastle's shambolic defense afforded and rarely put a pass wrong. He wasn't quite perfect but only fell just short, and very nearly got a goal of his own just before coming off. His impact in the absence of Luis Suarez was immense, providing just as much spark as the Uruguayan and little of the controversy. He's increasingly making a mockery of the price that Liverpool paid for his services, shaking off the disappointment against Chelsea to dominate Newcastle today.
The rest of the side weren't half-bad themselves, with each of Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson (two assists for the former, two goals and an assist for the latter) playing well from the wide areas at both ends and Daniel Sturridge getting two of his own as the main man in attack. Both of Steven Gerrard and Lucas were solid in their own right, showing a bit more energy and steel as a duo--save for ten or so minutes in the first half--before the captain came off for the first time in a Premier League match all season.
Glen Johnson's continued struggles were the only pock mark on an otherwise competent display defensively, with all doing what was required and Daniel Agger chipping in at the other end with his third goal of the campaign. One of the better days throughout the squad from front to back, with Fabio Borini breaking his Premier League duck as a substitute in the process, and one of the better results of an up-and-down season.
What fun that turned out to be.