Liverpool head into their FA Cup semi-final at Wembley this weekend on the back of a deserved Premier League victory over Newcastle United which reduces their deficit to the top four to four points…
As he had done in the FA Cup win over Blackburn Rovers, Kop boss Brendan Rodgers fielded a back four as Emre Can and Jordan Ibe replaced injured duo Mamadou Sakho and Daniel Sturridge.
Surprisingly however, in the absence of Sturridge, it was Philippe Coutinho playing the most advanced role in a three-man attack.
After a tight and uneventful opening, the match burst into life in the ninth minute when Raheem Sterling produced a timely reminder of what he made his name doing; playing football to an extremely high standard.
The 20-year-old beautifully controlled a cross from Jordan Henderson before stepping inside Ryan Taylor, avoiding a challenge from the back-tracking Gabriel Obertan and curling past Tim Krul.
Spanish left-back Alberto Moreno almost doubled Liverpool’s lead a couple of minutes later with an angled drive but Krul managed to bat the effort away to safety.
Newcastle were well and truly under the cosh now with Henderson, Sterling, Coutinho and Ibe seeing plenty of the ball in dangerous areas.
The Geordies weren’t helping themselves though with a number of sloppy passes and pieces of control gifting the hosts possession.
It seemed only a matter of time before further goals arrived for the Merseysiders and, such was their dominance, improvised flicks and creative set-piece moves were already in evidence.
An effort on the break by Algerian youngster Mehdi Abeid gave them a momentary fright as the half hour mark approached but they were quickly back on the front foot as the unlikely figure of Lucas Leiva forced a great save out of Krul with a point-blank header.
Newcastle eventually improved as the half drew to a close and they were incredibly unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when a rash Dejan Lovren challenge felled Ayoze Perez right under the nose of referee Lee Mason.
Perez also drew a fantastic late save out of Simon Mignolet, with a looping header, as the hosts were almost made to pay for not putting greater daylight between the two sides.
The visitors also started the second half brightly; committing men forward and generating a string of nervy moments amongst Liverpool’s make-shift defence.
Sterling should have calmed proceedings in the 56th minute but inexplicably he side-footed wide from close-range after a massive Taylor error.
Sensing his side were desperately needing to get back in the ascendency, Rodgers sent on Italian forward Fabio Borini for Ibe.
It seemed to do the trick as the men in red began to take the game to Newcastle and threaten Krul’s goal once more.
A crucial second finally arrived in the 70th minute when Joe Allen thumped home after Mike Williamson had failed to deal with a measured cross by Can.
The relief around Anfield was palpable and the crowd could have been celebrating again moments later but Lovren’s powerful header went fractionally the wrong side of the bar.
A way back into the contest for the Magpies now looked very unlikely but it became even less so when Moussa Sissoko saw red with seven minutes to go.
The French international had already been booked after a bout of handbags with Glen Johnson when a late tackle on Lucas, which on closer inspection was probably worthy of a straight red, saw him receive a second yellow.
There was still time left for Sterling to miss another sitter as the hosts continued to cut Newcastle apart without managing to find their killer touch.
The 20-year-old was replaced by Rickie Lambert late on and received a warm reception despite his ongoing contractual standoff with the club.
There were some nervy moments either side of half-time which threatened to punish our profligacy but overall this was a thoroughly deserved three points. At times our approach play was electric but it was all too easy to see why we are lagging well behind other teams in the goals for column this term. In truth it’s hard to get too carried away as Newcastle were simply dreadful for spells and a top four finish still looks highly unlikely; even if we win all six remaining games, Manchester City will need to lose twice given their far superior goal difference. The result does at least raise spirits ahead of our trip to Wembley on Sunday.
Philippe Coutinho – The Brazilian was the stand-out performer despite playing an unfamiliar ‘false nine’ role for the majority of the game. Floated around the pitch and linked-up the play brilliantly.
Mignolet, Johnson, Can, Lovren, Moreno, Lucas, Allen, Henderson (c), Ibe (Borini 58′), Sterling (Lambert 89′), Coutinho.
Unused subs: Jones, Toure, Manquillo, Brannagan, Markovic.
So that’s what we thought about the game, how about you? Let us know your verdict below or vote in our MOTM poll to the right…
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