Liverpool vs Newcastle United: Reds cruise to tighten grip on Premier League top spot

Liverpool 4-0 Newcastle: Jurgen Klopp's side proved to be far too good for the woeful visiting Magpies

Simon Hughes
Anfield
Wednesday 26 December 2018 18:13
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Six-point advantage 'means nothing' says Jurgen Klopp, as Liverpool increase lead on Boxing Day

There is a scene in The Grapes of Wrath where Muley Graves looks into the deputy sheriff’s search lights before turning to an accomplice, expressing the profound way in which his life has changed.

“When you're huntin' somepin you're a hunter, an' you're strong. Can't nobody beat a hunter,” he twangs. “But when you get hunted, that's different. Somepin happens to you. You ain't strong. I been a hunter for a long time. I ain't a hunter no more.”

For Liverpool’s players and for Jürgen Klopp, there is no immediate sense that leading the Premier League table is shifting the way they feel about the prospect of being a target. Instead a newfound status appears to be emboldening their spirit.

It helps that Manchester City are not convincing in their own role as pursuers. Liverpool had eased into a 3-0 lead here having delivered a steady if unspectacular performance when unexpectedly, the noise on the Kop reached a crescendo as Alisson Becker prepared to take a goal-kick.

Leicester had scored against City, City were seven points behind Liverpool – and now one behind Tottenham – and suddenly the possibilities at Liverpool seemed that bit more tangible. Moments later, Fabinho connected with Xherdan Shaqiri’s corner and Liverpool were four-nil up. The roar that arrived then appeared to come from the bowels of Anfield.

In this isolation of this match, context is required. When you learn that Newcastle’s last victory at this stadium involved scorers whose sons are now professional footballers, you understand that the weight of history was against them. That victory, in April 1994 following goals from Rob Lee and Andy Cole, also involved their only clean sheet in 36 away fixtures against Liverpool.

Rafael Benítez’s decision to make five changes hinted at the idea that he is prioritising according to the probabilities and that he considered Newcastle’s chances of earning points at Watford on Saturday greater than their chances of disrupting Liverpool’s flow here. The Newcastle team that drew with Fulham, indeed, was probably stronger than this one.

Lovren got Liverpool underway 

Newcastle’s approach was a pragmatic one, based around conservatism and reality. A reflection of the gap that exists between them and Liverpool was illustrated by the fact Liverpool’s victory extends the margin purely in terms of points to 34. Ten years ago this week, when Liverpool reached the summit of the Premier League table after dishing out a 5-1 trouncing at St James’ Park – a victory which hardened Liverpool's title aspirations, one which steered towards Newcastle’s impending relegation – the gap was nine points less, despite having played one game more.

Newcastle were hoping for the best, hoping that Liverpool’s focus might not be as it has been; hoping that mistakes were made and concentration levels at set-pieces or crosses were not meeting the usual standards. Unfortunately for them, it is usually the case that no team is more vulnerable facing Liverpool than when they have just created an opportunity themselves due to the speed at which Livepool’s players are able to run as well as think.

Salah scored from the spot 

A lead, actually, could have been Newcastle’s had Joselu not headed Matt Ritchie’s superb cross too firmly into the ground. Within three minutes, though, Liverpool had created a flurry of three chances. Newcastle’s defence was shaking by the time Dejan Lovren pumped a rising half-volley from 15-yards past Martin Dubravka to make it 1-0.

Shaqiri scored Liverpool's third of the game

Liverpool did not operate with the sort of precision they can find but they did not need to. Newcastle’s five-man defence could not handle the movement and perseverance of Mohamed Salah, the outstanding player on the pitch. It became 2-0 when Paul Dummett hauled the Egyptian down and with that, Anfield witnessed a home penalty for the first time in 424 days which is an astounding fact when you consider the pace and trickery of Liverpool’s forward line. In his current form, Salah was not going to miss the subsequent opportunity, just as Shaqiri did not miss from Trent-Alexander Arnold's cross and Fabinho did not miss from Shaqiri's late corner.

Liverpool thunder on. City falter. Tottenham creep. The hunt continues.

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