Liverpool 2 Newcastle 0: Raheem Sterling knows his worth but doesn't always show it, plus other things we learnt from Anfield

Liverpool closed the gap to Manchester City to just four points

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The Independent Football

Rodgers has found a new attacking formula 

One of Brendan Rodgers’ greatest strengths as a manager is his tactical flexibility, his ability to change formations and approaches to solve problems on the pitch. Liverpool’s long run of success this season came when they were outmanoeuvring their opponents with an unusual 3-4-2-1 system, but the evidence of the last few weeks has suggested that particular plan has run out of steam.

Looking for a new solution, and with no Martin Skrtel, Rodgers switched to a reconfigured 4-3-3, with Philippe Coutinho dropping deep as a false nine while Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe provided the pace and incision either side of him.

The system posed questions of Newcastle in the first half which they could not answer and Liverpool, having rediscovered their attacking style and intensity, could and should have killed the game early on.

Sterling knows his worth but doesn’t always show it

If Raheem Sterling was hoping to prove to Liverpool that he is worth more than the £100,000-per-week contract he has been offered so far, this was a good start. One of the criticisms of Raheem Sterling has been of his finishing. Paul Scholes wrote in these pages that he scuffs or bobbles his attempts on goal, rather than striking them cleanly. But Sterling, cutting in from the left wing, took the first goal brilliantly. He skipped his way through two challenges before clipping the ball perfectly beyond Tim Krul into the far top corner of the net.

But then, in the second half, with an almost open goal, he skewed the ball wide, and again with six minutes left. He is a fantastic player but, combined with last night’s other news, Liverpool’s reluctance to meet Sterling’s self-valuation is understandable.

Sterling scored a brilliant opener

Perez poses enough danger to give Newcastle hope...

Amid all the misery and mistakes at Newcastle United recently, last night there was hope – of sorts – in the form of Ayoze Perez. The Spanish striker has had his moments this season and last night he produced his best performance in months.

Leading the line on an evening when he might have been expected barely to get a touch, instead he caused problems with his movement, giving Dejan Lovren an evening so difficult that it was immediately clear why this season has gone so badly for the big Croat.

Perez should certainly have had a penalty when he was cut down by Lovren, while he also tested Krul with a far-post header while always keeping Liverpool on their toes with his movement. The problem, though, for Newcastle, is whether they are good enough to keep him.

...but a failure to defend could lead to an ugly end

This was not the worst Newcastle United display under John Carver. They were within one goal of Liverpool for the first 70 minutes and, thanks to Perez, they retained a threat at the other end. It was never implausible that they might get something. But they never once did the first requirement of a team in their position which is to make life difficult for the opposition.

They defended poorly and haphazardly and only some generously poor finishing from the hosts stopped them from running away with this game. There was a lack of the bravery, spirit and discipline required for good defensive football. If they had more points on the board, or more goals in their side, it might be no problem. But Newcastle’s inability to master the ugly side of the game might yet be the end of them.

Liverpool need Skrtel to shore up central defence

This win drags Liverpool within four points of Manchester City and, with the team who beat them to last year’s title in free fall, it slightly widens their slim chances of reaching next season’s Champions League. That would be an impressive achievement but, as with the possibility of their winning the FA Cup, it can only come about if they find the right combination at centre-back.

Last night Rodgers used Dejan Lovren and Emre Can together in a back four. Lovren was disastrous and Can had to play through a slight ankle injury. With the club confirming, though, that Mamadou Sakho will be out for a month they will need the returning Martin Skrtel to restore some order against a rampant Christian Benteke for Aston Villa.