Indeed, watching Liverpool at home over the last 18 months has been a lot like being placed in a medieval rack. With every movement of the ratchet, hope remains of a happy ending or unworldly saviour, but every movement brings agony and frustration which ends with the same depressing conclusion.
Liverpool’s home form has become some sort of bizarre illness. During every game, the fans become increasingly restless, dreading the same sorry ending, whilst the players try too hard in ridding the club of this increasingly monstrous burden.
The same stages transpire every single time on a day like this.
A good start with bags of possession. Box ticked.
After a complete dominance of possession and territory, Liverpool had two chances in the first half hour and both came for Luis Suarez. First he received a good toe-poked ball from Nuri Sahin and had a cross-shot saved by Tim Krul, then he headed over from a Steven Gerrard cross.
Suso also had a good chance on 41 minutes. He received the ball in space on the right-hand side, cut inside Davide Santon and had a left-footed strike deflected just over.
The opposing goalkeeper time wasting. Box ticked.
Tim Krul quickly became the focus of Liverpudlian ire by taking 30 seconds over every goal kick. Who can blame him? It’s the away side’s prerogative.
A goal against the run of play. Box ticked.
Being completely fair, Newcastle were growing into the game, and on 43 minutes, Hatem Ben Arfa beat the challenge of first, Raheem Sterling, and second, former Newcastle man Jose Enrique, and floated the ball across the box to an unmarked Yohan Cabaye; he took the ball down well and swept a fine half-volley beyond Brad Jones.
A frantic attempt at salvaging a result. Box ticked.
Liverpool – whose performance had become flatter the longer the first half wore on – had renewed urgency in the second period. A defeat was unthinkable after all.
More chances with no final product. Box ticked.
Luis Suarez – whose effort in turning the game around was becoming increasingly remarkable – forced a smart low save from Tim Krul on 57 minutes with a right-footed curled shot. Nuri Sahin then guided a half-volley just wide of the Kop goal two minutes later.
Hope that a victory might come after all. Box ticked.
Ironically it came after a route one ball from Jose Enrique, aimed diagonally across the pitch towards Suarez. The Uruguayan beat Fabricio Collocini to the ball, chested it down towards goal, rounded Krul and tapped into an empty net. A truly world class goal from Suarez and it came with 22 minutes of normal time remaining.
More time wasting. Box ticked.
Yes, Tim Krul is still at it, but anybody would do the same in his shoes.
A late flurry of missed chances. Box ticked.
On 70 minutes, Suarez ignored the run of Sterling on the right-hand side, dribbled past Collocini on the touchline, edged it back to substitute Jonjo Shelvey, who got caught flat footed (a weakness of his) and with the goal begging could only poke it tamely to a recovering Tim Krul from six yards out. An absolute sitter.
Then, boosted by a red card to Collocini (after a terrible challenge on Suarez), Liverpool spurn the inevitable late chance. It was Jonjo Shelvey who put the icing on the sour tasting cake on 90 minutes. Stewart Downing – substitute for a disappointing Nuri Sahin – crossed from the left and the shaven headed youngster wasted another golden opportunity, this time aiming a weak header at Krul.
There is obviously a touch of irony about the above commentary and some would argue that it’s a bit negative given that we weren’t beaten, but make no mistake, this is a script that Liverpool fans can recite with exasperating familiarity and any rant is well earned.
Although it’s probably not entirely fair on a resolute Newcastle side to focus solely on Liverpool’s failings, it would be equally misguided to argue that they deserved anything from the game.
Regarding Liverpool’s overall performance, we’ve spoken on here previously about the reasons for this incredible ongoing pattern of home results. Blaming it on some sort of hoodoo or curse is foolhardy to the extreme, it’s clearly not a simple case of bad luck and this is no time to bury our heads in the sand.
However, it’s also difficult to blame it entirely on wastefulness. Luis Suarez’s goal after all was a majestic finish and a pleasure to witness, but in many ways, he exemplifies Liverpool in that his approach play can all too often put his final touch into the shade. Specifically on Suarez, there is a strong argument brewing: he is a scorer of great goals as opposed to a great goalscorer.
That said, Liverpool would be in an absolute mess without him. Him being injured is an unimaginable scenario. He creates so many chances for himself and as a result he is still very high in the goalscoring charts. If his goals-to-chances ratio improved merely a jot, he would no doubt win the Premier League golden boot every season.
One thing that can be said with some confidence in the aftermath of today’s game however is that Liverpool’s final ball is woeful at times. Rarely has a team been in so many good positions in which to fire in a good cross, only for the ball to strike the first defender. The set pieces in particular were pitiful.
Poor Davide Santon and Vurnon Anita will awake tomorrow morning with badly bruised backsides and a bad night’s sleep beckons for Newcastle’s full-backs.
Whatever the whys and wherefores, Liverpool need to arrest this run of disappointing home results or they can look forward to a league season of mid-table mediocrity.
Positives? Yes, there are several. One has been alluded to above: we didn’t get beat. But the main bright spark is that everything up to the final pass or shot is impressive, whilst the club’s young players – Sterling in particular – are improving all the time.
The team are conceding too many goals, but you can’t help but think that Liverpool would relieve themselves of defensive tentativeness if they could only find that all too elusive offensive ruthlessness.
A trip to Chelsea comes next in the Premier League. A defeat will threaten to derail Liverpool’s league campaign, but at least the game isn’t at Anfield.
L4L Man of the Match: Luis Suarez. If the club’s owners want success, they will know for certain that keeping hold of one of the Premier League’s best players is a must. That’s the easy part. The harder pill to swallow is a realisation – costly as it may be – that Suarez will get sick of trying to pull Liverpool out of the brown stuff. He would get a place in 99% of the world’s teams, so providing him with some world class support in the final third is absolutely essential or he may not stick around for long.
Follow me on Twitter: @antonyjlfc
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