Rafael Benítez and half times. The former Liverpool manager had barely finished acknowledging the home supporters chanting his name when Newcastle’s United’s world appeared to crash; for the reality, indeed, to be laid bare.
One-nil behind after 67 seconds; 2-0 down at the break and with in-form Liverpool seemingly cruising, perhaps, to a fourth game in a row at Anfield where they scored four goals; Newcastle were all the bad things they were before Benítez’s appointment in March.
And yet, 20 minutes after the break, Newcastle were level. Somehow, a valuable point was stolen.
Like in Istanbul, Benítez did not deliver an impassioned rallying cry to inspire recovery.
“We changed a two or three little things,” he revealed. “Newcastle is a passionate club but with passion, you also have anxiety and fear. My job is to remain calm.
“They had to realise where we are, how we have to play if we want to stay up. I think they needed confidence.”
Words like “character” and “belief” followed; yet in cold analysis, there was a fleck of fortune involved as well.
Simon Mignolet’s decision to try and deal with a perfectly weighted cross by Vurnon Anita instead of allowing Dejan Lovren to contest a challenge with Papiss Cissé when he was positioned better, proved to be crucial because the Senegalese striker headed it in, making the score 2-1 just three minutes into the second half.
Prior to that, the news Mamadou Sakho faces a Uefa investigation for failing a drugs test had not disturbed Liverpool’s flow, even with a number of key players rested in preparation for the Europa League semi-final first leg in Villarreal next Thursday. Jürgen Klopp could not offer more comment on Sakho’s position, insisting that he had not made a decision what his team was going to be before the information was delivered to him at Melwood yesterday afternoon.
It frustrated him greatly, though, that Liverpool surrendered a two-goal lead, just as they did to Sunderland in February. He was not happy either with referee Andre Marriner’s failure to spot a foul by Chancel Mbemba on Sturridge that should have resulted in a penalty being awarded before Newcastle pulled it back to two-all. “It’s clear as you need it to be,” he said. “You do not need replays.”
Avoiding gifting an advantage to a Liverpool team that had scored four times in each of their last three home games should have been target number one for Newcastle.
And yet, Liverpool’s opening goal was so immediate and so simple, its manner illustrated why Newcastle are where they are: why defeat here would have equalled a record set in the 1930s of 10 defeats in succession away from home.
A weakness on the left side of Newcastle’s defence must have been recognised by Klopp because Sturridge positioned himself there most of the time. Paul Dummett did not seem to spot the in-form striker drifting directly across his line of vision and from Alberto Moreno’s hoof of a free-kick, Sturridge was able to turn sharply and score. Klopp described it as "not really being a chance at all."
Liverpool’s lead by half time was by two. Again, it involved space being afforded to a dangerous opponent. Adam Lallana had been the game’s best player, consecrating flicks and tricks with end product, so it was no surprise when, unmarked – in the area Cheik Tiote should have been patrolling - his delicious curling shot ended up in the top corner.
From here, Newcastle’s position seemed impossible. The joint intervention between Anita and Mignolet stirred hope and suddenly, Liverpool’s defence was unsure of itself.
It was not really a surprise, indeed, when Newcastle equalised through Jack Colback after Alberto Moreno had disappeared from his position at left back, leaving Andros Townsend free to race forward and provide the cross, which was not dealt with despite attempts to clear it.
From there, Benítez went into overdrive in the technical area, with first team coaches Paco de Miguel and Fabio Pecchia also providing instruction. In the absence of experienced organisers on the pitch, Benítez was the person telling everyone what to do, and certainly not as tranquil as he claimed to be at half time.
Somehow, Newcastle had recovered. Benítez was delighted.
“The fans, the city, the club: I had a very good relationship with Liverpool,” he concluded. “My family is still living here. It was emotional because the Liverpool fans were singing my name. It was emotional because the Newcastle fans were singing my name.
"I’m pleased to have the reaction. But most of all, I’m pleased because we have the point.”
Liverpool (4-3-2-1): Mignolet; Randall (Lucas 70), Touré, Lovren, Moreno; Allen (Coutinho 70), Stewart, Milner; Firmino, Lallana (Ojo 83); Sturridge. Subs not used: Ward,
Newcastle (4-2-3-1): Darlow; Anita, Mbemba, Lascelles, Dummett; Tioté (Shelvey 83), Colback; Townsend, Sissoko, Pérez (Wijnaldum h-t); Cissé (Mitrović 74). Subs not used: Woodman, De Jong, Mbabu.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Attendance: 43, 837
Man of the match: Adam Lallana
Match rating: 6/10
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