Frayed Newcastle unravel as Mohamed Salah weaves his magic for Liverpool

Liverpool 4-2 Newcastle (Salah 49′, 86′ pen, Jones 74′, Gakpo 78′ | Isak 54′, Botman 81′)

ANFIELD – In the relentless Anfield rain, a clear path to a Premier League reign started to emerge. This is not a perfect Liverpool side – witness the defensive lapses that allowed an improved Newcastle United back into this contest – but they have creativity, momentum and a five-point gap without fully flexing their muscles. They can do it.

They still have plenty of questions to answer, not least how they are going to navigate January without the imperious Mohamed Salah. He was pivotal here, brushing off a below-par first half to play a central role in three of Liverpool’s four second-half goals. He even atoned for his penalty miss with a sweetly struck spot kick to extinguish the last of Newcastle’s resistance.

Perhaps just as important as the victory was the way they did it. Profligacy has been a problem at times for Liverpool but here they offered evidence that they are learning how to finish off opponents. Jurgen Klopp had the luxury of injecting urgency into the game with Cody Gakpo, Alexis Mac Allister and Diogo Jota all making a difference when they came on.

For Newcastle, there was further pain here. They have injuries but looked desperately out of form and pitching up at a ground where they hadn’t won since 1994, their remit was simple: survive. They didn’t manage it but could take something from their improvement here. They can bounce back but must find a way to stop ceding so many chances.

Against hosts as irresistible as the rain that lashed Anfield, there was an element of needs must about some of Newcastle’s last-ditch defending. Last season they arrived as Premier League insurgents looking to chip away at Liverpool’s Anfield invincibility, this term the assignment was simply to repel the red wave by any means possible.

But Liverpool 2.0 aren’t the finished article, as their first-half finishing illustrated. Klopp’s title-winning iteration were ruthless but at times this bunch can appear toothless. As 18 first-half chances went begging memories of their inability to kill off a passive Manchester United started to resurface.

At times you can really see it. For 20 minutes they went for the black and white jugular, all-out attack orchestrated by the majestic Trent Alexander-Arnold with Salah and Luis Diaz providing ever-present menace. The latter thought he’d opened the scoring with a deft touch but had strayed marginally offside. Then two minutes later the former snatched horribly at a penalty won by Diaz, allowing an inspired Martin Dubravka to parry.

After that purple patch, it became all a bit frayed. Chances continued to arrive but Liverpool’s fluency was disrupted by Newcastle’s midfield spoiling and frustration at referee Anthony Taylor. A yellow card for Diaz’s dissent prompted howls of derision from Anfield and an agitated Klopp but Liverpool were largely architects of their own downfall.

Even when Alexander-Arnold did beat Dubravka with a dipping effort his ingenuity wasn’t rewarded as it clipped the post.

Newcastle’s resistance couldn’t hold. Liverpool reemerged for the second half with more purpose and promptly snatched the lead, a bewitching counter-attack sprung by Alexander-Arnold finished by Salah from close range as Newcastle’s defence were pulled out of position.

Surely this was the red route to victory? Not quite. Newcastle may be out of form but they can still produce moments from nowhere and Alexander Isak’s exquisitely finished equaliser was just that. Full marks to the Sweden forward for his devastatingly deft chip but Anthony Gordon was the creator with a trademark run and pass that sliced Liverpool’s defence.

Tension once again settled on Anfield. Gordon’s raids down the left were unsettling and Liverpool needed a Salah intervention to breach their resistance, creating Curtis Jones’ close-range goal. Gakpo’s goal appeared to have put the game out of sight before a late flurry saw Sven Botman offer hope dashed by who else but Salah.

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