Saturday, 1 November 2014

Newcastle defeat dire Reds

Liverpool were dire as they fell to a one-goal defeat at Newcastle on Saturday lunchtime.

They produced virtually nothing in attack and made mistakes at the back which meant that Newcastle took all three points from one of the most tedious matches of the season so far. The Geordies weren’t fantastic, despite enjoying renewed confidence following back-to-back victories away to Tottenham and Manchester City, but Liverpool were simply far worse, and thus succumbed to their fourth defeat of the season after only ten games. They only lost six times throughout the whole of last season.

Rodgers made seven changes to the side that dramatically came from behind to beat Swansea City in the League Cup on Tuesday. Disappointingly, Fabio Borini was dropped to the bench as Balotelli played as the lone striker once again, even though the Italian pair seemed to strike up an understanding against the Swans, combining excellently for the equaliser. As it turned out, the disinterested Balotelli put in another underwhelming display, while Borini looked bright after coming on but didn’t have much time or support from his teammates to make a real impact on the contest.

Liverpool employed a 3-5-2 formation when they were in possession, reverting to 4-2-3-1 when the hosts had the ball, as Rodgers demonstrated his tactical flexibility. Unfortunately, this tactical flexibility did not translate into a quality performance, as both sides produced an instantly forgettable first 45 minutes.

The system also left Liverpool vulnerable down the left, as former Manchester United winger Gabriel Obertan had space to exploit behind the onrushing Alberto Moreno. In fact, until he was stretchered off with a thigh injury midway through the first half, Obertan posed the Barcodes’ biggest threat. On nine minutes the 25 year old Frenchman comfortably skinned two opponents down the right, before cutting the ball back to Moussa Sissoko, who couldn’t convince referee Andre Marriner to point to the penalty spot after going down easily under Joe Allen’s admittedly risky challenge.

Obertan pulled up injured as he ran for the ball with Lovren
Little of note occurred during the remainder of the first half until both sides had their best chances of breaking the deadlock from corner kicks during the closing stages. First, Glen Johnson was called upon to head off the line from Cisse’s header after Mignolet had flapped at the ball into the box. Two minutes later, Skrtel screwed a header wide from six yards out, as the Slovakian centre back spurned a rare gilt-edged goal scoring opportunity.

A semblance of drive, desire, passion and purpose was missing and remained conspicuous by its absence in the second half. Although admittedly he was not helped by a midfield lacking ideas as to how to unlock Newcastle’s defence, Balotelli’s body language was shocking during the second half and it said everything about his attitude when he only just made it out on to the pitch in time for the kick-off.

Newcastle keeper Tim Krul dealt with a couple of tame efforts from Balotelli comfortably after the restart, although he had to be on top form to repel Coutinho’s goal-bound header from Gerrard’s cross just before the hour mark.

Coutinho's header was the best chance Liverpool created in the second half
In a positive move, Rodgers replaced Allen with Borini on 66 minutes, and the former Sunderland striker instantly went close against the Wearsiders’ fiercest rivals, crashing a half volley wide from range after Sterling had laid the ball off for him. That was the closest Borini came to scoring, but at least he ran about diligently and showed some desire to influence proceedings and make an impression, in stark contrast to the frustratingly disengaged Balotelli.

Up to that point, Liverpool looked fairly solid at the back, at least compared to most of their matches this campaign. However, on 73 minutes they fell to pieces, and that ultimately cost the Reds. This time, Alberto Moreno was the one to blame, as his heavy touch in completely the wrong direction diverted Dummett’s cross into the path of half time substitute Ayoze Perez, who stole in and smashed home from close range to give the Geordies the all-important first goal, which proved to be the winner.

Moreno's mistake proved costly
It was very nearly even worse three minutes later, when catastrophic defending meant that Glen Johnson was left to face two Newcastle attackers all by himself on the half way line. To his teammates’ immense relief, Mignolet made a magnificent save from Remy Cabella’s shot with his ankle to bail out his defence and keep the visitors in the contest.

Lambert was brought on in place of Coutinho for the final ten minutes as Rodgers took once last throw of the dice, but the ex-Southampton striker, who is yet to score for his boyhood team, failed to change the course of a match that was slipping away from the Reds.

Liverpool’s final attempt at an equaliser was a tame one. Balotelli scooped a cross into Moreno in the box from the left hand side and the Spaniard, clearly trying to compensate for his earlier error, fluffed his lines while attempting a spectacular volley.

The fact that the Reds’ main striker was out on the left wing while their left back was in the box said it all about the disjointed nature of Liverpool’s display, which was woeful even by this season’s standards.

It doesn’t bode well heading into big matches against Real Madrid and Chelsea next week.


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