Liverpool were comfortable winners in their home match against Newcastle United, a victory that saw them climb to 2nd. They were frustrated in the first half, as they dominated the possession, but struggled to break down a resolute visitors’ defence.
The Magpies were always likely to set up deep and look to counter-attack. This has been their gameplan against the top-six teams and it has led to a lot of media criticism of the tactics.
For the home side, they managed to find a way through and that will be an encouraging sign for Jurgen Klopp. At the beginning of his reign, they struggled in matches such as these and dropped lots of silly points. That is no longer the case as they look devastating in attack and capable of breaking down teams with a negative gameplan.
Here are three talking points from Anfield…
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is growing into his role at Liverpool
The England international was given the start again in the advanced midfield role and he played superbly, as he supplied the creativity to put his side in front.
It came at a crucial time as Newcastle would have been encouraged had they got to half-time with the scores still level. The 24-year-old received the ball in central midfield and played a superb ball to release the deadly Mohamed Salah.
The Egyptian doesn’t need to be asked twice in his current form and slotted past Martin Dubravka with ease. It was a great display of vision and technical skill from Oxlade-Chamberlain.
During the match, he completed one dribble and made one key pass. However, his influence was much more than that, as he was often playing forward passes that put his side in dangerous positions.
In terms of work rate, he has slotted into Klopp’s tactical plan well as he runs relentlessly for his team. He completed three tackles and made two interceptions, which shows his tenacity in the middle of the park.
As the season heads into the run-in, Oxlade-Chamberlain should be a regular starter for Liverpool.
Rafa Benitez has been constrained at Newcastle
There has been a lot of criticism of Newcastle’s style of play this season as they regularly set up to defend against the top sides with little motivation to attack.
They come across trying to keep the score down rather than win the game. That is probably an unfair criticism as they will want to take a positive result, but there is no doubting they are focused first on defending.
It was seen as a great occasion as Rafa Benitez returned to Anfield for the second time as Newcastle manager. However, the performance shows how his job has now changed, as he is managing a side fighting relegation rather than challenging for trophies. His team had less ability than the home side and that led to the tactics employed.
Benitez remains a very good manager and days like this one show the size of the job he is being asked to do at Newcastle. The owners were not willing to back him in the transfer window and that has left him with a limited squad.
If they are to compete, they need to employ defensive tactics, otherwise, they will be played off the park. They limited Liverpool to only 14 shots and managed to have seven themselves. The tactics worked to an extent, but the lack of talent meant they still couldn’t take anything from the game.
Virgil van Dijk has made Liverpool better defensively
Throughout the first half of the season, it was clear that Liverpool’s main weakness was their defence and that was going to prevent them from challenging at the very top of the game.
The problem is far from fixed, but the addition of Virgil van Dijk has gone a long way to solving them. He has provided an assured and confident figure at the back that can organise the defence.
His dominance was evident on Saturday as he completed four ball recoveries and won six aerial duels. Liverpool can now defend an aerial threat with ease and that was useful yesterday as Newcastle were targeting set-pieces as a way to threaten.
In addition to his quality at the back, Van Dijk is very confident on the ball and that suits Liverpool’s style of play. He can step out of the back four and launch attacks with a good passing range. Against Newcastle, he completed 88% of his passes and was forever looking to make positive contributions on the ball.