What a strangely familiar match that was. Subtract the European Super League drama and it was eerily similar to the 1-1 draw with Leeds United just six days ago. Liverpool claimed a first-half lead, failed to extend said lead despite numerous opportunities to do so, and then conceded a late goal that cost them two points.
While the missed chances and disappointing results are all too familiar this season, blowing consecutive 1-0 leads in the dying minutes of the game is really hard to swallow with a Champion’s League spot on the line.
Now join us as we examine some of the narratives, tactics, reactions, and questions Liverpool will be dealing with and the fans will be talking about in the aftermath.
It was yet another strong showing from the Turkish center-back. He cut out a number of dangerous Newcastle counter-attacks in the first half, and was a big reason Liverpool entered the break ahead. Despite picking up a yellow in the 9th minute for a smart, tactical foul that stopped one of those counters, he never looked in danger of picking up another. He has strung together quite a few strong performances of late, and he is doing everything he can to convince Liverpool to make his loan permanent.
Dúbravka was immense for Newcastle, and he is the single biggest reason they’re leaving Anfield with a point. While Liverpool certainly didn’t make his day as difficult as it should have been thanks to numerous flubbed chances, they still put nine shots on frame, and Dúbravka saved all but Salah’s unstoppable third-minute rocket. The Slovak keeper broke up several breakaways and odd-man rushes, and that was enough to keep the Magpies close enough to find their late equalizer.
Liverpool’s finishing has been dreadful for virtually the entire season, but it was especially frustrating today. When Salah scored his absurd pirouetting laser early on, it felt like maybe today was the day where Liverpool would find their finishing boots. Instead, we got more of what we’ve seen over and over for months as Diogo Jota, Sadio Mané, and, to a lesser extent, Salah either failed to truly test Dúbravka or flat out missed the net much too often.
The Handball Rule
Look, we can all admit it felt nice to have VAR work in Liverpool’s favor for a change, but most people would rightfully argue that Callum Wilson’s would-be equalizer in the 91st minute being ruled off by VAR is absurd. Even if the no-goal call was correct by the letter of the law, punishing Wilson for the ball bouncing into an arm that was firmly tucked at his side is laughably unfair.
The handball rule has been scrutinized and changed numerous times in recent years to try and make it both more fair and easier to enforce, but it seems safe to say the current iteration is just as problematic as previous ones if that was a handball.
Diogo Jota’s emergence as a goalscoring threat has spawned countless stories and discussions about if/when he should replace Roberto Firmino in the starting XI. Today, Jürgen Klopp did put Jota in the XI, but it was in addition to the usual front three rather than in place of Firmino. What this meant was that Salah and Mané took up their usual positions on the wings, Jota slid into Firmino’s usual false nine role, and Firmino dropped back into the tip of the midfield three.
From an attacking perspective, it worked for the most part. Firmino was excellent distributing the ball to the front three, and he deserved an assist or two for his efforts. The early interplay between Firmino and the front three was some of the best we’ve seen in quite some time, and overall the four of them created enough chances that the game could, and probably should, have been put to bed by half-time.
Liverpool did surrender quite a few potentially dangerous counter-attacks via through balls, but that’s something we’ve seen repeatedly this season in virtually every setup. So, it’s hard to pin that on all four of the attackers playing together.
Overall, Firmino behind a front three of Salah, Jota, and Mané looked quite promising for much of the 58 minutes that all four were on the pitch, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Klopp give it another go in the next match or two.
What Happens Next
Liverpool have five more matches to try and grab enough points to sneak into fourth and snag the final Champion’s League spot for next season. With fourth and fifth place Chelsea and West Ham facing off at London Stadium this afternoon, the two extra points today would have guaranteed Liverpool no worse than a share of fifth place coming out of this weekend. Instead, they’ll remain behind both of the London clubs regardless of the result, and if that match results in a win for either side, Liverpool will be four points back from fourth place.
Add in Tottenham who are one point behind the Reds, and Everton who are two points back (but with a game in hand), and Liverpool are now in a situation where they truly can’t afford to drop anymore points. Five teams, separated by three points, chasing one spot leaves virtually no margin for error going forward. As Klopp mentioned earlier this week, every remaining match is like a cup final at this point.