Sunday 22 July 2018

Benitez's men show character to collect point at his old club

Liverpool 2 Newcastle 2

Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez applauds fans as Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp looks on after the game. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez applauds fans as Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp looks on after the game. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Newcastle's Cheick Tiote battles for possession with Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Newcastle's Vurnon Anita gets the better of Liverpool's Roberto Firmino during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield. Photo: Nigel French/PA
Newcastle United's Aleksandar Mitrovic and Liverpool's Kolo Toure battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield. Photo: Nigel French/PA

Andy Hunger

A day to forget for Jurgen Klopp could ultimately prove one to savour for Rafael Benitez.

Liverpool began the day under a cloud courtesy of Mamadou Sakho's failed drugs test - and Newcastle United's stirring recovery from two goals down ensured they stayed there. Belief, character and a touch of fortune, all the ingredients required in a relegation contest, were evident as the visitors collected their first point on the road since December 13.

Benitez had asked his former club for a favour in his quest to preserve Newcastle's Premier League status and the ex-Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet obliged. Liverpool were coasting at the interval to a fifth straight win in all competitions, but Mignolet's mistake allowed Papiss Cisse to reduce the arrears and, from nowhere, Newcastle had a fighting chance. They capitalised to close the gap on fourth-from-bottom Norwich City to one point and maintain the momentum that is building under their belatedly-appointed coach.

"Maybe before the game, Newcastle thought they could win at Anfield," said Klopp. "But now I would say they are happy with a point. Two shots on target, two goals. It is not too good to be honest, but we have to accept it."

The Liverpool manager may also have to accept whatever sanction is heading Sakho's way for failing a Uefa drugs test after the Europa League tie at Old Trafford on 17 March. In purely football terms, and Klopp could not say much about Sakho given the defender has until Tuesday to respond, Liverpool's resilience in his absence was not encouraging.

Sakho sat in an executive box with his family as his team-mates eased into a two-goal lead in the first half. Any hopes Newcastle harboured of two encouraging displays at St James' Park translating into improvement on the road were put on hold after 58 seconds. That was all the time it took for Daniel Sturridge to reassure Anfield in the absence of the injured Divock Origi and score his seventh goal in his last seven starts against Newcastle.

Benitez was warmly serenaded by the Kop on his return to Anfield - it was not so easy the last time he was in the opposition dugout as Chelsea's interim manager - and he had just reciprocated with a wave when Liverpool were awarded a free-kick on the halfway line. Klopp's team had gone long with two balls into the Newcastle area from the kick-off and the reason why was underlined from Alberto Moreno's set piece. Sturridge had two defenders on his shoulders as Moreno's ball dropped on the edge of the penalty area, yet he was given space to control neatly, turn sharply and stroke a clinical left-foot finish into Karl Darlow's bottom left-hand corner.

The visitors' game plan to contain Liverpool with a 4-1-4-1 formation was damaged before it had been executed. Newcastle lacked the aggression or the confidence to react positively in the first half, their performance far removed from Tuesday's committed show at home to Manchester City, and Liverpool inflicted further punishment on their passive opponents with another fine goal on the half-hour. Dejan Lovren found Roberto Firmino in space and the stylish Brazilian released Moreno down the left. Liverpool's full-back produced his second assist by picking out the unmarked Adam Lallana in the centre. From 20 yards, the midfielder swept a stunning finish into the top corner.

Liverpool's commanding display was not the only reason to suspect the contest was over. Their only concerns of the first half were slight knocks to Moreno and Lovren, and referee Andre Marriner's refusal to award a penalty for handball. Marriner was a late replacement for Martin Atkinson, who reportedly suffered an injury on a Uefa fitness course.

Newcastle had offered nothing, which made their second-half fightback all the more surprising and, for Klopp, galling. Benitez's side were gifted a lifeline shortly after the restart when Vurnon Anita broke down the right and crossed deep into the Liverpool six-yard box. Mignolet rushed from his line, but his fists made no contact with the ball, only with the unfortunate Lovren, and Cisse headed into the unguarded goal.

Cisse should have levelled and left Anfield enraged when Sturridge was denied a penalty having been clipped inside the area. Marriner waved play on, Newcastle broke through Moussa Sissoko and the captain put the Senegal international clear on goal. The striker wanted too long on the ball, however, and could only pass back to Andros Townsend, who blazed high into the Kop.

Firmino tapped in from close range after Darlow saved from Joe Allen's header, but an offside flag came to Newcastle's rescue, and they soon capitalised from another attack down the Liverpool left.

This time Townsend centred into the heart of the home penalty area and, though Cisse could not connect with a clean header, the ball dropped for Jack Colback to score his first away goal in over two years via a deflection off Lovren. After nine consecutive league defeats away from home, Newcastle's away support revelled in the release long after the final whistle.


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