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Liverpool 2, Newcastle 2: Old Familiar Frailties

Against the visiting Newcastle, Liverpool welcomed back some old friends in the form of Rafa Benítez, hesitant goalkeeping, and the mysterious evaporating two-goal lead.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Liverpool 2 Sturridge 2', Lallana 30'
Newcastle 2 Cissé 48', Colback 66'

Rafa Benítez has accumulated more than his share of frequent flyer miles since he parted ways with Liverpool in 2010. There have been stops at Inter, Napoli, Chelsea, and most notably Real Madrid, before the former Liverpool manager took on the herculean task of restoring stability to a floundering Newcastle side.

There were some parallels on this occasion to Jürgen Klopp's Europa League return to the Westfalenstadion Signal Iduna Park - a manager returning with a new club to a ground where a lot of magical memories were forged - but Liverpool supporters were hoping that would be where the similarities would end.  No dramatic cup elimination this time, but in fighting back to salvage a 2-2 stalemate, Newcastle did just enough damage to halt some of the momentum that Klopp's squad had been building up, and may have closed the book on a Liverpool top four finish.  In fairness, this is a book that has been opened and closed and opened and closed more times in recent weeks than Ulysses being read by a fifteen year-old.

In the end, it was a familiar mix of ingredients that cost Liverpool the full three points at Anfield.  There were savvy substitutions from a former manager who knows a thing or two about turning things around at half time.  There were some panicky moments in goal, none more costly than an unsuccessful attempt by Mignolet to reach a cross.  And there was a brief spell in the opening exchanges of the second half during which the entire Liverpool side appeared oddly becalmed, allowing Newcastle the opening to climb back into the match.

Things had started much more promisingly.  The Anfield faithful were able to celebrate a perfect start just 68 seconds into proceedings.  From an early free kick, the ball was lofted past a snoozing Newcastle and towards Daniel Sturridge.  The Liverpool striker, hovering between two central defenders, took a split-second to control and another to pivot before firing the hosts to a one goal lead.  Sturridge's form of late has been incandescent, and in Origi's absence, his fortunes will no doubt play a big role in deciding whether Liverpool have something to celebrate over the summer.

In that moment, Liverpool seized control of the contest and did not surrender it during the first half, though there were a couple of worrying instances on the fitness front.  Seemingly untouched, Moreno appeared to have an issue with his knee that required attention, while minutes later Lovren was briefly laid low by a stray elbow to the throat. Liverpool can ill afford another key casualty, following a string of high profile injuries and questions around Mamadou Sakho's  future availability. Fortunately, both players were ultimately able to continue.

Despite the changes in personnel, the first half was as clear an expression of Klopp's blueprint as you will likely see during the manager's first season.  There was minimal dithering in possession, intelligent movement from the forward players, and a singleminded focus on ball recovery when posesssion was lost. It is a testament to the strides this squad has made when they are as recognizable without the ball as they are with the ball.

At the half hour mark, a great ball by Firmino allowed a marauding Moreno to race forward with menace.  The fullback found Lallana in a central position, who did very well to make space for himself before directing a curling guided missile past the helpless Karl Darlow. Lallana has always been able to conjure moments where he seems like a video game character unencumbered by the laws of physics, and he was at his mercurial best early in this match.

Newcastle were, however, far from being the hapless visitors that Everton were earlier in the week, and they had their moments too as the first half wound down. Andros Townsend was an ever present and willing runner, while Vurnon Anita had an opportunity that was blasted miles over the bar when there were other options available.

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Benítez was able to build on these themes after the restart, beginning with the introduction of Georginio Wijnaldum for Ayoze Pérez. There was flat start to the second half by the home side, appropriately presaged by the crowd's attempt to initiate a song, which petered out into a murmur.  Liverpool likewise seemed hesitant, and this hesitancy was punished immediately by Newcastle.  A quick cross from the right, which Mignolet came for but did not reach, and Cissé headed home to halve the advantage.

There was more distress to come for the hosts.  After a Sturridge penalty appeal went unanswered, Newcastle were able to break forward in numbers, and with Mignolet and the goal at his mercy, Cissé was unable to commit to decisive action, and the chance evaporated.  Thoughts immediately turned to that match against Southampton.

Newcastle was happy to revive those memories.  On another delayed break, Townsend once again got himself into an excellent position on the right, and the Liverpool were not quite able get themselves sorted out before Jack Colback's shot took a deflection on its way into the net.  Despite the sudden parity, one sensed that disaster was not inevitable, and the points were still very much there for the taking.

Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Leiva and Sheyi Ojo made their eventual appearances in the second half, coming on for Connor Randall, Joe Allen and Lallana.  Randall, despite being a more than willing servant, was second-best on a few critical occasions on this day, and Nathaniel Clyne's absence was noticeable.  While Allen and Lallana did solid work all over the pitch, Klopp may have sensed a need to maximize the goalscoring threat before Newcastle receded completely into their shell.  It seemed like Coutinho and Ojo might have been the winning lottery numbers, but it was not to be.  Credit must go to Newcastle and Benítez for holding firm in the final stages of the match.  For Liverpool, there is some soul-searching to be done around how this one got away, but there will not be a lot of time to do it.  Villareal awaits.

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