A lethargic Liverpool slump to a depressing defeat at Newcastle United in a largely uneventful game at St James’ Park…
Reds boss Brendan Rodgers almost completely overhauled the side that beat Swansea City in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday night, making seven changes.
Simon Mignolet, Martin Skrtel, Alberto Moreno, Steven Gerrard, Joe Allen, Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli were the men restored to the starting eleven.
An interesting tactical tweak from Rodgers also saw Johnson primarily operating on the right of a back three with Sterling starting at right wing-back, particularly when in possession.
Newcastle’s leading scorer Papiss Cisse, back in the side after a knee injury, had the first effort at goal but it sailed wide via a deflection.
Sloppy play from Allen and a missed tackle from Lovren allowed Gabriel Obertan to escape down the right but Moussa Sissoko went to ground far too easily when trying to get on the end of his fellow Frenchman’s dangerous centre and the penalty appeal was rightly overlooked.
Liverpool were creating very little themselves despite Gerrard taking up some good attacking positions as opposed to merely sitting deep in the manner we’ve become accustomed to over the past year or so.
The hosts were dealt a blow in the 24th minute when the pacy Obertan, who had been getting plenty of joy in behind Moreno, injured a thigh and had to be replaced.
The men in red started to boss possession as the half wore on but neither side could manage to work the opposing goalkeeper with anything like regularity.
Liverpool did need Johnson to head a Cisse effort off the line though after Mignolet had failed to claim a corner.
The Belgium keeper could argue he was being illegally blocked off and it’s increasingly clear that teams are targeting him as a weak link at set-pieces.
At the other end, Martin Skrtel should have opened the scoring in the 40th minute but the Slovak powered his free header wide after getting on the end of a Gerrard corner.
Despite the opportunity, and a late Cisse free-kick, it had been a damp squib of a half, something which was particularly surprising given the entertainment this fixture historically provides.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew made his second substitution at the interval and new man Ayoze Perez, on for Cisse, almost benefitted from poor play by Johnson shortly after the restart.
Moments later and a bad foul from Sissoko on Allen allowed Balotelli to test Geordie custodian Tim Krul with a dipping free-kick.
Another Balotelli effort from distance followed before Coutinho forced a great save from Krul with a close-range header, although a harsh assistant’s flag would have seen it ruled out anyway.
It had certainly been a more positive opening to the second half from the visitors as players on both teams showed greater desire and intent.
Dutch full-back Daryl Janmaat went a little too far in the 62nd minute though, scything down Balotelli at the end of a robust period of play and rightly seeing yellow.
The introduction of Fabio Borini, an eye-catching performer on Tuesday night, for Allen almost paid dividends for Rodgers but the Italian fired wide after a great knock-down from Sterling.
Liverpool would soon become the architects of their own downfall once more this season as Newcastle took the lead in the 73rd minute.
After Johnson’s baffling decision to shoot from distance was blocked, the Geordies broke away and Sissoko’s ball across the penalty area ricocheted off Moreno for Perez to slam home from close-range.
It should have been two shortly afterwards when Moreno failed to clear once more, this time following a poor Henderson pass, allowing Perez to race clear only for Mignolet to somehow get a foot to the shot and deflect it marginally wide.
Liverpool chucked Rickie Lambert on in search of an equaliser late on but if anything, initially at least, they looked more likely to concede again, Sissoko testing Mignolet with an angled drive.
Pressure built briefly on the Magpies in the final five minutes but clear-cut openings failed to materialise as Liverpool slumped to their fourth Premier League defeat of a insipid season.
Shocking game. Shocking performance. Predictable result. Will this season ever get going? We were flat and unbalanced from the off and although Newcastle probably didn’t do enough to justify the win, they certainly wanted it more. It was a curious contest in truth that descended into an entertainment-starved tactical battle. Arguably, the only difference between the teams was one mistake (or piece of bad luck depending on how you look at it). Perhaps the hosts were fortunate to keep a full compliment of players on the pitch but that’s clutching at straws. With confidence seemingly spent, and Real Madrid and Chelsea up next, this could be a long week.
Steven Gerrard – Got around the pitch in a manner of old but not even Gerrard in his pomp would have been able to inspire this bunch of players to victory at present.
Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno, Gerrard (c), Allen (Borini 66′), Henderson, Coutinho (Lambert 80′), Sterling, Balotelli.
Unused subs: Jones, Manquillo, Toure, Can, Lallana.
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