I’m not gonna lie, this has knocked the wind out of my sails.
Once again a promising season or run gets dashed on the rocks when we run into Liverpool, who completed a miserable set of wins against us.
After being the only team to win a Premier League game here in the whole of 2022 and the only team to beat us in the league this season, they extended both statistics with goals from two players who they signed this season for a combined fee of £110 million, a glaring example of how Liverpool cannot hope to compete with us and our glass ceiling.
This game was weird in many ways. I think we’d all have accepted defeat if it brought positives ahead of next week’s league cup final. This was far from what transpired but even so the game was massive in itself, as a win would have cemented the Champions League place that will be 100% focus come what may after next weekend. Defeat and the ominous spectre of Liverpool snapping at our heels would become a glaring reality, as well as kicking the door open for an inconsistent Spurs.
This all had so much promise. Before the game there was a magnificent display in recognition of what would have been Sir Bobby Robson’s 90th birthday, with contributions from all of the great man’s former clubs. This was followed by an even more poignant moment.
The death of Christian Atsu has been a difficult one to process. One of Newcastle United’s own, lost in the midst of a disaster of far wider proportions, with the death toll approaching 50,000. I’m sure that the intention was for a minute’s silence, but this was hijacked by pre-emptive applause that should have been shut down by the club announcer, who instead allowed the daft clappers to overrule them. Silence is far more poignant and this moment deserved it. RIP Christian, once again the testimonies speak of a fantastic person who gave so much back. I hope we find a way to remember him specifically soon.
The game started with similar verve, as Newcastle looked well up for it. There was one single positive to come from this game and it could be monumental. The reshuffled NUFC featured none other than classic Allan Saint-Maximin up front. Everything that followed was interspersed with destructive runs, fabulous dribbles and an awareness of the options in the centre. He played in Almiron early on for a shot that was blocked by the quickly onrushing Alisson, then fired high and wide from a trademark run of his own. Allan was on it and Newcastle were up for it tonight. This was pretty much the entire script apart from the horrible sickening diversion it took for about twelve minutes in the first half.
Credit where it’s due, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s ball through for Nunez was an absolute worldie of an assist and the way it cut our stellar defence apart. However, I would spitefully point out that Nunez was lucky in the way he contrived for it to bounce off himself before unleashing a howitzer of a strike past Pope. This conceding goals carry on is getting a nasty habit now and the hope of a VAR review was rightly consigned to history.
The prospect of railing against a single goal deficit sharply disappeared as Liverpool pretty much scored the same goal seven minutes later, Salah’s pass putting Gakpo in for 2-0.
This was a more likely VAR review as Gakpo looked borderline (a bit like Isak at Anfield) but once again there was nowt to complain about. Hopefully this has given some pointers for defending the counter attack ahead of the massive events of next week.
The massive events of next week were now on sharp focus. With it unlikely that our shot-shy lot could reverse an early double deficit, there was already an air of just looking after key personnel for the cup final. It took about five minutes for one of these key personnel to rule himself out and spoil everyone’s night / week / season entirely.
Alisson’s big boot forward threatened to send Salah clean through on goal despite the presence of the backtracking Longstaff. Pope has diffused many attacks like this by steaming out of his goal but this went horribly wrong. I think the initial attempted header was misjudged, but Pope inexplicably grabbed the ball on his way down, with the ref having no option but to flash the red.
This was up there in the top five of nightmare scenarios. Not only had Pope surely ended any hopes for this game but more importantly, the Carabao cup mission must now be attempted without one of our most important players. Bizarrely, this realisation was transmitted from the crowd, who welcomed Martin Dubravka onto the pitch in the lukewarm knowledge that his petty excursion to Manchester meant he would be unable to deputise when it counts.
There was an hour to go from here and to be honest I just wanted to go home and sulk.
It’s not a fair response (and I didn’t by the way) as United performed admirably, with Dan Burn heading against the bar at a point when it could have been awkward for Liverpool. ASM never gave up driving at the opposition and brought a smart save from Alisson himself after another mazy run.
The second half was a bit of a daydream. Liverpool perhaps let up with an eye on Real Madrid on Tuesday and United might have restored a bit of confidence with a dignified effort. The removal of key players felt smart as Isak and Almiron were withdrawn with an eye on Wembley. I felt similar confidence in the substitutions of Trippier and Joelinton, but arrived home to quotes from Howe along the lines of “hopefully they’re alright” which would just put the tin hat on things.
We can look at retrieving the league position next month. Once we’ve got Man City out of the way, games are winnable and most rivals have oppressive European campaigns to distract them. We can construct a solid spring and have a decent chance at retaining that Champions League spot. However, this is all background to the most important thing: our first realistic chance of an actual proper trophy in decades. Pope’s rush of blood has reduced the odds on this massively and we all need to reassess the odds in the cold light of morning.
Firstly, we need something of a storybook display from Loris Karius. The keeper remembered for a calamity performance for Liverpool against Real Madrid needs to have it in him to perform a redemptive story arc in what will be his first competitive appearance for Newcastle. You couldn’t make it up.
Secondly, we need our superstar to step up. Bruno has been sorely missed but it’s all worth it if he returns in top form against Man U, as we all know how much he can influence a game. The fact that his team mates offered encouragement tonight as an attacking force can only add to the belief here, but this lad has quickly emerged as a hero in his incredible career here so far. He can send this stratospheric if he can control the game next Sunday in a way we’ve been sadly missing in his absence.
Thirdly, and crucially, we need a favour. Tonight’s pre-match gave focus to Sir Bobby’s previous clubs and we must hope that one of them channels their inner Bobby in five days time. For all we’ve had a rickety ride in recent weeks, Man Utd must face Barcelona some 66 hours before the final in a tie that is currently level. The Catalans could send the scales in our favour if they can drag out opponents through a difficult evening, with potential for extra time and even the hope that some key personnel could be buckled in the same way that Nick Pope has removed himself from our own equation.
One to forget here, hopefully defeat to Liverpool once again marks a long run of losing to no one else. I’ll catch you next a week on Monday / Tuesday/whenever I peel myself off the pub floor with an update on the biggest game in memory. Good luck everyone.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 0 Liverpool 2 – Saturday 18 February 5.30pm
Pope 22 Red Card
Nunez 10, Gazpo 17
(Half-time stats in brackets)
Possession was Liverpool 37% (61%) Newcastle 63% (39%)
Total shots were Liverpool 13 (6) Newcastle 14 (9)
Shots on target were Liverpool 7 (4) Newcastle 4 (3)
Corners were Liverpool 7 (2) Newcastle 6 (5)
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Pope, Trippier (Murphy 64), Schar, Botman, Burn, Longstaff, Anderson (Dubravka 24), Almiron (Gordon 64), Joelinton (Ritchie 71), Saint-Maximin, Isak (Wilson 64)
Dummett, Lascelles, Lewis, Manquillo
(Worried about Newcastle United? Just look who was overwhelming Liverpool man of the match – Read HERE)
(3 Positives and 3 Negatives to take from Newcastle 0 Liverpool 2 – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 0 Liverpool 2 – The instant NUFC fan / writer reaction – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 0 Liverpool 2 – Twelve minutes losing the plot but this was excellent from Newcastle United – Read HERE)
You can follow the author on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
If you would like to feature on The Mag, submit your article to [email protected]