Liverpool 3-1 Newcastle United: Jonjo Shelvey’s early goal stunned Anfield but the Reds roared back to stay one point behind leaders Manchester City
A Covid-enforced pause may surround them, but there was no ceasing Liverpool’s title challenge. Newcastle came, showed some fight and were conquered, slipping further into relegation worry – albeit with shoots of resistance to cling to.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s divine strike in the dying moments on Thursday night ribboned a triumph aided by Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah.
At Anfield then, was the rarity this week: a Premier League game that went ahead amid rising Covid cases and a queue of postponements.
The hosts had their own positive results to manoeuvre ahead of kick off, with Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Curtis Jones self-isolating. Liverpool did not request a rescheduling of the fixture, but Newcastle might have wished they did.
Eddie Howe’s men initially thought Christmas had come early with two loose giveaways from Thiago, the latter a clearance that unfurled the welcome carpet for a Jonjo Shelvey hit. The midfielder obliged from the edge of the D, taking a touch before directing a curler into the bottom corner with Alisson left unsighted and rooted.
Newcastle were ahead contrary to the run of play or convention on seven minutes, but would later let their advantage slip in only four.
There was a smidge of controversy for Liverpool’s leveller, but in truth there was no strong case against it. As the visitors half-cleared a corner, Isaac Hayden collided with Fabian Schar and remained down. Mike Dean waved play on and Sadio Mane crossed in from the right for Jota, whose header was brilliantly parried by Martin Dubravka.
That reaction save was bettered by the forward’s rapid response on the rebound: roofing in the ball that had fallen to his feet from a few yards out.
Newcastle protested on the grounds that Hayden took a knock to his head, but there seemed to be no such contact. Howe’s charges nearly scrubbed off that goal by getting another, seizing on another sloppy pass with Allan Saint-Maximin driving at Ibrahima Konate before forcing an intervention from Alisson.
Then the best player in the world happened. Salah matched Jamie Vardy’s league record of providing a direct goal contribution in 15 consecutive games, smashing home after Shelvey’s blind backpass released Mane.
The Senegal attacker could have played for a penalty after being clipped on the ankle by Schar, but showed tenacity in aiming for the bottom right. Dubravka parried that effort, but only as far as division’s golden man Salah.
Liverpool had 10 shots from inside the box in the first half, so the scoreline was flattering on Newcastle. After the break, however, they had faded and faltered. The aggression in the press and general energy dissipated.
Trent Alexander-Arnold produced a sensational last-ditch sliding tackle to steer the ball away from Jacob Murphy. It was timed and executed perfectly, drowning out Newcastle’s pleas for a penalty.
Liverpool introduced Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Salah to introduce fresh legs and invention, but their opponents showed a steel without the ball that could serve them well if continuously repeated moving forward.
Hayden blocked from Jota and Dubravka claimed an audacious looped effort from Keita.
But there could be no defiance to stunt a strike dripping in majesty. Alexander-Arnold took one touch in the inside-left channel and bang! A rising thunderbolt cannoned towards the top left from 25 yards in Gerrardesque fashion.
What a hit, son! What a hit.