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Liverpool 2, Newcastle United 0: A Patchy Victory against Struggling Visitors

Liverpool weren't entirely convincing in a victory that revealed some inspiring and depressing truths about certain players.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Liverpool 2: Sterling 9', Allen 70'
Newcastle United 0:

A win would draw Liverpool closer to Manchester City in fourth after Manuel Pellegrini's side were comprehensively defeated at Old Trafford on Sunday. A four point gap with six games to go may be a difficult task, but Brendan Rodgers' side had to defeat a desperately out of sorts Newcastle United at Anfield first before entertaining such prospects. Newcastle had lost four games in a row before the game and suffered another defeat against a patchy Liverpool side.

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Daniel Sturridge was not in the squad after succumbing to injury once again after his exertions against Blackburn Rovers last Monday, but there was a return from injury for the exciting Jordon Ibe who started upon his return to the squad. Emre Can regained his place in the team in central defence at the expense of Kolo Touré in a 4-3-3 formation. A big surprise was the positioning of Philippe Coutinho who played as a false nine, dropping deep with Raheem Sterling and Ibe out wide.

Early on in the game, the visiting defenders struggled with how to grapple with Coutinho's presence. There was no direct opponent to face as Coutinho regularly looked to get on the ball closer to Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen in midfield. Following the Brazilian into midfield would create gaps for runners and allowing him to drop deep would ensure Liverpool could enjoy an advantage in midfield to control the game.

The opening exchanges of the game were relatively even, with both sides assessing the opposition before Liverpool just decided to push ahead and score. It was a thrilling opening goal from Raheem Sterling who received the ball from Henderson on the left side, cut inside on the run, and curled the ball beyond the flailing Tim Krul. Perhaps the Dutch goalkeeper would congratulate Sterling on the strike later! To concede within ten minutes isn't what a side in relegation form would like but that's exactly what happened as Sterling showed why he's a huge talent for Liverpool as well as a key player.

Newcastle looked like perfect opposition before the game with familiar troubles at the club and settled into a worrying routine in the first half for interim-manager John Carver. They gave the ball away in deeper areas to give Liverpool advantageous positions to build attacks from, didn't understand how and where to press in defensive transitions, failed to make a decent effort to counteract Liverpool's main threats in Sterling and Coutinho, and generally presented an opportunity for a thrashing.

After the opening goal, Liverpool enjoyed the possession, the combination play, and territorial advantage to push ahead in the first half. There were decent chances and possibilities through a shot from Alberto Moreno, a through ball for Coutinho to put him through on goal but couldn't quite get to, blocked shots, powerful headers from offside positions, and passes as well as crosses that miss a key player in promising goalscoring positions. Liverpool were on top but finished the first half fortunate to be level. Lee Mason should have given Newcastle a penalty after Joe Allen carelessly gave the ball away and Dejan Lovren hacked Ayoze Pérez in the area. Newcastle then tested Simon Mignolet through Pérez's header and Mehdi Abeid rifled disappointingly over from a good position after the impressive Moussa Sissoko's cutback.

John Carver's side had pace in wide areas and started the second half with enthusiasm, trying to push for an equaliser early on to continue a revival threatened in the dying minutes of the first half. Lovren led the way in careless defensive mistakes and gifted Pérez with the ball deep in Liverpool's half with an inexplicably poor header early in the second half. Emre Can dallied on the ball a few minutes later to give Sissoko possession when Liverpool needed composure under pressure, and Glen Johnson's concentration on the right wasn't a source of confidence either. Liverpool found a fight when it should have been a procession.

A second goal was required to settle the game, and Raheem Sterling should have provided that close to the hour mark but missed a simple chance after Ryan Taylor made a mess of Jordan Henderson's cross. Liverpool did regain some control of the game and Coutinho, Henderson, and Sterling were behind the push for a second goal. However, it was an unlikely source settled the home side. Joe Allen profited from Mike Williamson's inability to deal with Emre Can's straightforward ball into the area and scored his first Premier League goal at Anfield. Joe Allen's goal had a similar effect in the second half to Sterling's goal in the first as inspiration for the home side to push further and secure three points, especially with Newcastle going a man down late on after Sissoko's poor challenge on Lucas Leiva for what his manager admitted was worse than a second yellow card.

Raheem Sterling continued to be Liverpool's most effective outlet but couldn't provide the final pass or shot after continually beating opposition defenders. He still has some developing to go but is Liverpool's top scorer in the league with seven league goals even after another display littered with some missed chances. This is a player who can give Liverpool double figures in both the goals and assists column from an attacking support position, something that's not particularly common. He was tireless at Anfield and showed how essential he is to Liverpool's future. Henderson's passing and zeal in propelling his side forward should also be commended in helping Liverpool over the line like a captain should.

Liverpool's brightest performer was Philippe Coutinho who needs no introduction for what he can do. He took to his new role well, bamboozled defenders time and again, helped Liverpool dominate the midfield at times, and made some fine runs into space in a fine performance. The most worrying was probably Dejan Lovren. A visiting side like Newcastle offered little pressure in general but the Croatian international is either overconfident, not good enough, or dangerously bereft of concentration. The scariest answer would be a combination of all three. There are too many mistakes in his game and he doesn't have the temperament for success at the club from what he's shown so far. His display was far inferior in comparison to the exemplary work of Lucas Leiva and Simon Mignolet on the night, and Lovren looks to be just as part of Liverpool's future as the woeful Glen Johnson if he continues to defend haphazardly.

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In the end it was a straightforward victory but not convincing enough. Aston Villa are in far better form than Newcastle, and Liverpool will need to be a lot better in the upcoming FA Cup semi-final. Liverpool's modest goal difference makes the quest to finish in the top four even more difficult with only six games left to play but doesn't definitively rule out Brendan Rodgers' outfit from making a late charge. However, Southampton are only a point behind with a goal difference double that of Liverpool's so there's a fight to remain in fifth spot too.

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