LIVERPOOL 2-2 NEWCASTLE
Rafa Benitez’s return to Anfield, proved to be fairly meaningful for his current team as Newcastle United earned a hard-fought point. Despite the Reds leading in the first half with two excellent goals, a brilliant strategical play by a resurgent Newcastle under Benitez in the second half ensured that their ambition to remain in the Premier League next season isn’t completely over just yet.
Manager Jurgen Klopp made a few big changes in the squad compared to the team that defeated Everton on Tuesday. Clyne and Origi were replaced by Toure and Sturridge, while Coutinho and Lucas started on the bench. It could be argued that Klopp’s changes in the squad were as a measure to prioritize the UEFA Europa League campaign, where the Reds are slated to play against Villarreal next Thursday.
Sturridge took less than 2 minutes to open the scoring for Liverpool with a brilliantly controlled goal, after being fed a wonderful long freekick by Alberto Moreno. Liverpool looked the much better team with a better pass accuracy and more number of passed. The wonderful play, coupled by Newcastle’s defensive flaws meant that Adam Lallana would score a wonderful long range goal from just outside the box, putting the score to 2-0 inside thirty minutes. Amidst Liverpool’s attempt to score more goals, the first half’s scoreline remained unchanged.
Benitez’s comeback plan
When Liverpool defeated Dortmund 2 weeks ago, fans hailed it as one of the biggest comebacks in the history of the club on par with the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final, which was orchestrated by Rafael Benitez for the Reds. On several occasions, Rafa inspired some amazing comebacks for the Reds during his managerial tenure at Anfield and he provided a glimpse of the same to Newcastle United fans as well in the game. Papiss Cisse scored an open header in the 49th minute and the scoreline was 2-1. It was after this point that Newcastle began pressing harder in their attack department. Ultimately their persistence paid off and Jack Colback then scored the equalizer in the 66th minute, with an easy chip inside the box. Klopp then decided to bolster the team attack and used up all his substitution options within 12 minutes, bringing Coutinho for Randall, Allen for Lucas and Ojo for Lallana. Yet, Liverpool failed to break Newcastle’s defense and the match ended 2-2.
Liverpool’s top six hopes dented
Even if Liverpool remain all of their remaining 4 matches, the hopes of the Reds finishing in the top 4 is all but over and with the draw against Newcastle, West Ham climbed above Liverpool to 6th. Liverpool are now nearly assured of a top 10 finish, but unless Liverpool gains something out of the Europa League, it would be an otherwise disappointing season again. With an automatic entry to the Champion League at stake, Klopp will undoubtedly make it his biggest priority. But bookies have already put Liverpool as the firm favorites for the Europa League title and with the quality of squad, Klopp could indeed end up with a memorable debut season with the Reds.