Newcastle and Liverpool played out an entertaining 2-2 draw yesterday at St James’ Park, with both sides having a chance to win all three points.
The hosts were keen to end an inconsistent start to the campaign with a win, but will be happy with a draw given that they were reduced to ten men in the first half.
Liverpool wanted to continue their enterprising start to the new campaign and will feel that they could have won the game after dominating the second half.
Here are the key observations from the game.
Newcastle set-pieces a talking point
The home side’s defending at corners and free-kicks in the first half was very ordinary, with Liverpool winning a number of headers in the Newcastle box. Alan Pardew will have his side working on its marking in the week after the Reds could have equalised on a number of occasions with the Toon 1-0 to the good.
At the other end, Newcastle clearly have been working on attacking set pieces, as a number of pre-empted moves resulted in chances. Paul Dummett’s important second goal came from his movement, which will have been practiced on the training ground.
Suárez not at his best, but still top class
The tempestuous forward looked decidedly jaded after the long trip to South America and back for international duty, but still showed glimpses of his considerable ability.
Suárez, and Daniel Sturridge, was guilty of giving the ball away too often but some of his first touches and balance to beat opponents stood out.
For Liverpool’s second goal, a masterful touch around the corner was top class, while his movement to get the ball back and cross for Sturridge to score was the highlight of the game.
Newcastle’s midfield balance
Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tioté looked like the pair that led Newcastle to fifth place in the Premier League back in 2011-12, with their individual strengths on show here.
The France international scored an excellent long-range opener and his range of passing was top-drawer. A number of inch-perfect through balls showed Cabaye’s attacking threat, and the former Lille man seems to be getting back to his best.
Tioté’s aggression in front of his back four was also apparent and the Ivory Coast international put in some well-timed and important challenges. Together the pair can drag Newcastle back into the top-half reckoning.
Liverpool have strength in depth at the back, not in attack
Daniel Agger was once more left on the Liverpool bench, despite Brendan Rodgers opting to play three centre halves. The Merseyside club have gone from a position of over-relying on the assured Danish defender to now having other options at the heart of their defence.
Similarly, the return of Glen Johnson and Aly Cissokho means that Rodgers has a number of options in each of his back five defensive positions for most games.
However, despite the clinical nature of SAS, the Reds did not have much in reserve attacking-wise to call upon once they needed a goal. Luis Alberto was brought on with little impact, while the club are missing the creativity and guile offered by Philippe Coutinho.
Remy and Ben Arfa playing out of position
Surely it makes sense to play an in-form striker through the middle, right? Alan Pardew defied this logic to have Loïc Rémy operate from the left, with Hatem Ben Arfa, usually a winger, playing as the lone frontman.
Ben Arfa was operating as a false nine; a craze in modern football used by Barcelona, Spain and Germany, but not necessarily suited to Newcastle. The North East club’s rich history of top-class number nines is still part of the club’s fabric, and Rémy should have been played as the lone frontman.
This was highlighted in two major parts of the game. In the first half, with Newcastle on top, Rémy beat a man on the left to cross on a number of occasions, with no one in the middle to convert the chances or attack the ball. Surely had Rémy been the man in the middle with Ben Arfa crossing, the hosts would have posed more of a threat.
Secondly, with Newcastle reduced to ten men and having to soak up considerable pressure in the second-half, long clearances were coming straight back at them as Ben Arfa struggled to get into a position to hold the ball up. The more physical and direct Rémy would have at least have offered an out ball and kept the Liverpool centre-halves busy.
A draw was a fair result, despite both sides having chances to win it. Newcastle showed an encouraging amount of energy and determination, epitomised by goal hero and home-grown talent Paul Dummett.
Liverpool were staring down the barrel at 2-1 and looked to be getting frustrated, but showed the quality to get back in the game. Both sides look ready to have positive seasons.