Friday 23 August 2019

Keeping the dream alive

Origi's late strike earns 'Pool the points and means title race will go down to the final day

Liverpool substitute Divock Origi celebrates after scoring the winning goal against Newcastle at St James’s Park last night. Photo: Clive Brunskill
Liverpool substitute Divock Origi celebrates after scoring the winning goal against Newcastle at St James’s Park last night. Photo: Clive Brunskill

Andy Hunter

Wherever the Premier League title ends up, and for Liverpool there remains hope it will be Anfield, Jürgen Klopp and his players know they could not have given any more.

Manchester City have been taken to the wire in the title race courtesy of a punishing and dramatic Liverpool victory at Newcastle, who were 12 minutes, including injury time, from inflicting potentially fatal damage on the visitors when Divock Origi produced another telling intervention from the bench.

Origi was only on the pitch as a consequence of what appeared to be a serious injury to Mohamed Salah, who was carried off after a collision with Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka. Liverpool's title dreams looked to be going with him as Rafael Benítez's team twice came from behind in search of a merited point.

But in the 86th minute Xherdan Shaqiri swung a testing free-kick into the Newcastle six-yard box. Origi, and quite possibly Jamaal Lascelles, applied the final touch and the pressure was back on Pep Guardiola's team once again. The contenders have now traded 20 Premier League wins between them in a truly enthralling title race. There remains no margin for error.

The luxury of wholesale changes before the Champions League semi-final was out of the question for Klopp - unlike Ernesto Valverde, who fielded a second-string Barcelona team at Celta Vigo - although there were four fresh faces in the visiting lineup from the Camp Nou. Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dejan Lovren and Daniel Sturridge returned for the penultimate test of the league campaign, the latter in place of the injured Roberto Firmino. How Liverpool need the influential Brazilian back for Tuesday.

For 20 minutes the title contenders were in complete control against a Newcastle team frantically clearing their defensive lines and offering no threat in the final third. Benítez, so diligent in his positional work and collective organisation, looked on aghast at the spaces that invited Liverpool to flood through his five-man defence.

Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool celebrates. Photo: Getty
Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool celebrates. Photo: Getty

Klopp appealed in vain for an early penalty when Sadio Mané was caught in the head by a dangerous high clearance by former Anfield right-back Javier Manquillo. Salah was sharp from the off, and had missed two half-chances from deep crosses by Andy Robertson and Mané by the time Liverpool struck their first blow. Matt Ritchie diverted Salah's second attempt wide with a vital block. Alexander-Arnold swept the resulting corner into the heart of the Newcastle penalty area where Van Dijk powered in a textbook header completely unmarked. Lascelles slipped as the corner arrived but had already lost Van Dijk before the PFA Player of the Year converted his sixth goal of the season.

The Liverpool manager reacted with a thumbs-up and an appeal to his players to retain concentration. Newcastle's reaction was more impressive, however, as they woke from their slumber to transform the pattern of the game.

Benítez's side levelled when Alexander-Arnold was left alone with Salomón Rondón as Manquillo centred into the Liverpool box. Rondón flicked on to Ritchie, unmarked at the back post, and turned his return cross goalwards from close range. Alexander-Arnold stopped the shot on the line with an out-stretched arm and was fortunate in the extreme that Christian Atsu was on hand to bury the rebound. It would have been a red card for the Liverpool defender plus a penalty had referee Andre Marriner not played the advantage.

Liverpool were on the ropes in the minutes that followed the equaliser. Manquillo tested Alisson with a diving header from Ritchie's inviting cross. Ayoze Pérez struck the crossbar after collecting a loose ball on the edge of the area and volleying from close range. Ki Sung-Yueng forced the Liverpool goalkeeper into another save from distance. And just as Newcastle threatened to turn the tide completely, they abandoned their defensive duties to damaging effect once again.

Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool scores his team's first goal. Photo: Getty
Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool scores his team's first goal. Photo: Getty

Alexander-Arnold assisted for the third time of the evening with a delightful first time cross from Sturridge's backheel near the corner flag. Salah, remarkably, was left all alone in front of Dubravka's goal to restore Liverpool's lead with a deft volley into the far corner. It was the Egypt international's 22nd league goal of the season and Alexander-Arnold's 11th assist in the Premier League campaign, bringing him level with Robertson. Liverpool's threat from both full-back positions may be well established but their opponents seem powerless to react.

At the opposite end Rondón was crucial to Newcastle's prospects, his power and pace unsettling Liverpool's central defence and encouraging team-mates to venture forward in support. The centre forward forced Alisson into a fine save early in the second half with a low snapshot on the turn.

His next effort gave the Brazilian keeper no chance and St James's Park reason to raise the noise once again. Robertson intercepted with an important header when Atsu's cross appeared destined for Pérez at the back post. Ki took the subsequent corner and, though Georginio Wijnaldum headed clear, Manquillo returned the ball into the path of Rondón who unleashed an unstoppable finish into the far corner.

Klopp introduced the lesser-spotted Xherdan Shaqiri for Wijnaldum in an attempt to inject some vibrancy into the Liverpool attack but the hosts continued to exert pressure. His problems intensified, to a worrying degree, when Salah was floored by an accidental collision with Dubravka when the Newcastle 'keeper punched clear in a crowded penalty area. Salah received treatment for several minutes before he was stretchered off in evident distress and replaced by Origi. The substitute ensured there would be one final twist.

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