Another thoroughly enjoyable day at St James’ Park. A performance that merited the point and once again underlined the sheer determination that this ‘set of lads’TM plays with. And obviously we all know that Rafa Benítez and his staff are absolute tactical geniuses. United had 32% possession and 8 (5 on target) shots at goal to Liverpool’s 17 (2 on target). Those statistics would suggest that we were fortunate to get a point. We weren’t.
Last week I wrote that I found the game at Brighton boring. Harsh but it’s how I felt. However, the line-up announced before the match most certainly guaranteed that this was not going to be the case against Liverpool. Shelvey and Merino starting together for the first time got the excitement levels up to ‘giddy’ (possibly enhanced by beer consumption) and throughout the game it became evident just how much we need a fully-focuessed Shelvey in the team. He is absolutely class and the Shelvey/Merino partnership surely has the potential to be one of the most exciting we’ve had in years? Two players utterly at ease on the ball and able to open-up space with absolute precision. Joselu kept his place in the side which given the opposition made sense and Manquillo came in at left-back for Mbemba which again felt right given the fact that, ultimately, the Chancellor is a centre-back and was always going to drift back to type the longer he was kept out on the left.
Pre-kick off the flags in the Gallowgate looked incredible. What a powerful display and a brilliant way of telling Rafa that, regardless of the negative spin and stories pumped out by the media about him constantly being on the verge of leaving, we’re 100% behind him and very few believe the speculative stories pedalled by less than salubrious publications.
To the match then and it became apparent how we’d play. Liverpool were always going to have loads of the ball and the team let them dictate it without being overwhelmed. The Reds created the first decent chance when a ball down the right-hand side was latched on to by Salah who darted in to the box, his pace and control ensuring Manquillo was playing catch-up, and just when it looked like he was angling to shoot from nowhere came NUFC’s ‘probably the quickest man on Earth’, Yedlin, to get himself in the way. For a second it looked like it might fall to Sturridge but a combination of Lascelles, Manquillo and Yedlin managed to get it away from danger.
The next Liverpool opportunity was a proper stomach-churner. Coutinho’s near post corner headed on to the post by Wijnaldum (so glad he didn’t score, so glad to see he’s still a cardboard cut-out during away games), a scramble in the box, Lovren shooting from 6 yards out and Lascelles blocking it and eventually Sané leathering it wide at the back post. Thank F.
And then the goal. A Lascelles clearance that was a bit of an up and under won back by Liverpool and then picked up by Coutinho. I think we could all see what was going to happen. Shelvey checked his run and allowed Coutinho to do what we didn’t want him to. A quick switch of the foot and to be fair an outstanding top corner strike. Having watched the highlights back I hadn’t quite realised how close Elliott was to getting a hand on it. Never mind.
Now, this is the point where we remember this is a Rafa Benítez NUFC. Not a Pardew NUFC, not a Carver or McLaren NUFC, but a Rafa Benítez NUFC. He didn’t panic. The players didn’t panic. We didn’t panic. And within 7 minutes we’d equalised.
A Liverpool attacking move broken up. Ritchie feeds a quick pass to Shelvey. Shelvey takes a touch…spots Joselu’s run in the gap between the 2 Liverpool centre-halves and with his second touch puts what is an outrageous pass through….Joselu runs towards the goal, seems to have a mini ‘shite yasel’ moment but keeps going. He then plays a one-two with Matip, using his right foot to play it off Matip so that it switches back on to his left for the perfect bottom corner finish. That’s what happened, aye? Shelvey is like our own big, bald, beautiful, slightly-disturbed version of Iniesta. Welcome back lad. Energetic and slightly life-threatening celebrations ensued and the noise went up even higher. Geeet in.
The second half kicked off and Liverpool had an early chance down to nothing more than an error by Clark (who was excellent throughout otherwise). His mis-kick let in Sturridge who shot tamely at Elliott (credit for getting off the line and narrowing the space). Salah’s effort on the rebound wasn’t too clever and the danger was over. A quick word on Salah. His pace and directness were dragging our team over to the right a fair bit and it was impressive to watch. However, his end-product and general intelligence with the ball at his feet were lacking slightly. Maybe just an off day but the panic I felt every time he went near the ball in the first half subsided quickly during the second. Credit to Manquillo.
The next wobbly moment came from a Liverpool corner which (sorry Rob but please come off the line!) Shelvey headed away from inside the 6 yard box. A Coutinho cross then found Solanke whose diving header flew wide. However, by this point Liverpool seemed to have realised that they’d run out of ideas against a ridiculously well-drilled opponent. I have never witnessed a Newcastle team with this much control in how it plays. Each player knows his job and sticks to it – tactical brilliance. Klopp’s incredible gesticulations, channelling his inner Northern Soul dancing moves, suggested he could feel the chance of a win slipping away too.
Hayden came on for Merino to tighten it up and Gayle came on for Joselu who had run himself in to the ground. Liverpool may have been reduced to 10 men when Gómez seemed to catch Atsu on the head with his foot but the ref deemed it a yellow. I haven’t seen a replay of it but as it was against one of humankind’s nicest people obviously Gómez should have been sent off and punished with 50 lashes.
By now I think we were just praying for 1 chance to snatch the win. It almost happened. A perfect Matt Ritchie corner and the ball just got stuck under the feet of Big Mo meaning his shot lacked the power required to see it end up in the net. The game ended. A great point and an excellent performance. No one had a poor game, everyone stuck to their tasks and we’ve now got 10 points from 7 games. Average that out over a season and things do not look bad at all. The feeling going in to the international break is surely a one of optimism.
NORMAN RILEY – FOLLOW NORMAN ON @likethegoat
Follow tf on twitter: @tfnufcfanzine
The issue of THE SPECIAL (the free true faith matchday newsletter) is still available. Click here.
There is a new issue of true faith available for download now. true faith is the longest running and most widely read Newcastle United fanzine available. This is issue 133 of true faith and has now been providing the alternative view on matters Newcastle United since 1999. The fanzine is put together by supporters who follow United home and away. The fanzine is now completely digital and also 100% FREE. Just click on the link below and its all yours. You can download it and read it offline at your leisure.