Plenty to ponder
As part of our Premier League snap-shots feature, Alex Dunn looks at Liverpool's 1-1 stalemate with Newcastle at Anfield. Luis Suarez's wondergoal will not mask the fact this is Liverpool's worst start to a season in 20 years.
Last Updated: 05/11/12 1:11am
Given the abject nature of Liverpool's Capital One Cup elimination to Swansea City in midweek it was no surprise Brendan Rodgers reverted back to the team which drew the Merseyside derby in their last league outing. It's safe to say Joe Cole didn't turn up at Anfield with his boots draped hopefully over his shoulder.
Despite their tender years Raheem Sterling and Suso continue to operate either side of Luis Suarez, who once again led the line in an exemplary fashion and delivered where his profligate team-mates have fallen woefully short this season. An Anfield draw with the Uruguayan on the scoresheet has become the Premier League's safest bet.
Steven Gerrard became just the tenth player to clock up 600 games in a Liverpool shirt and was presented with an ornamental Liver bird for his troubles by former team-mate Gary McAllister. Liverpool could do worse than look for a seasoned head like the Scot in January.
Newcastle made three changes from their victory over West Brom last time out with Vurnon Anita, Steven Taylor and Papiss Cisse all returning to their starting line-up. Cisse's injury-time winner against the Baggies was enough to see him usurp Shola Ameobi alongside leading goalscorer Demba Ba.
The two line-ups mirrored each other, with both Rodgers and Alan Pardew keen advocates of a 4-3-3 formation that sees two forwards float around a No.9 at the apex of the attack. For Newcastle, Ba looked to be some way short of full fitness as he lasted less than five minutes of the second half before being replaced by Sammy Ameobi. The switch allowed a subdued Cisse to play more centrally but with Liverpool in the ascendancy for almost the entire second half, he was given precious little opportunity to stake his claim to be Newcastle's main man.
James Perch was asked to sit in Pardew's midfield to allow Yohan Cabaye and Jonas Gutierrez licence to roam ahead of him but lasted just 26 minutes. The thigh injury he picked up necessitated a change in personnel if not formation.
There was no surprises with the way in which Rodgers set-up his side to play either. Nuri Sahin continues to be the Ulsterman's preferred option over Jonjo Shelvey to complete a midfield triumvirate alongside Gerrard and Joe Allen, whose trademark efficient passing was not at its best as his first half completion rate dipped to 85 per cent, the lowest figure he's recorded to date for Liverpool.
Both sides rely on their full-backs too much at times to provide natural width and of the four it was Jose Enrique, who set up Suarez's goal (albeit from deep) who was arguably the most effective in an attacking sense.
For Newcastle it was very much a case of necessity dictating changes rather than any tactical tinkering on Pardew's part. Perch was the first to be replaced as he gave way to Danny Simpson. The change resulted in Anita being pushed into midfield with Simpson moving to right-back to replace the Dutchman.
The extent of the problems that forced off Ba (on 49 minutes) and talisman Cabaye (on 69) have yet to be ascertained but Pardew conceded at full-time it's a real concern. Ba's replacement Ameobi put in a shift and was involved in a penalty shout involving Martin Skrtel that was correctly waved away, while Shane Ferguson had the unenviable task of taking Cabaye's place.
Rodgers waited over an hour before shuffling his own pack as Suso made way for Shelvey. The new-England cap showed he's capable of getting in goalscoring positions but wasted two gilt-edged opportunities. Trademark jinxing in the box from Suarez presented him with a glorious chance with the goal gaping but his effort was insipid while a late header failed to trouble Tim Krul. Stewart Downing was granted a 13-minute cameo for the ineffective Sahin.
Alan Pardew made his way onto the field at the final whistle to ask some searching questions of referee Anthony Taylor but did not, to be fair, appear to take his protestations too far. Once he sees the reckless lunge captain Fabricio Coloccini committed on Suarez, as his fellow South American made inroads down the right flank, he cannot have any complaints.
The ever impressive Sterling, who could have won it late on when his angled drive was superbly blocked by the robust frame of Steven Taylor, was lucky to escape without a yellow card for a reckless tackle on Cisse but otherwise Taylor got the major decisions right.
Liverpool felt hard done to when Coloccini clashed with Suarez in the box but to award a penalty would have been soft and it was later in the game when Newcastle's captain committed his real crime.
Pardew said of the official: "I thought he (Taylor) maybe got caught up in the emotion and I wanted to ask him before he'd had a chance to see replays. He said he thought it was serious foul play. The morale of referees must be really low at the moment, because of constant criticism and the issues around them. We accept his decision and I thought he had a good day."
Love or loath him there's no escaping the fact Suarez is a fine, fine footballer. Had Coloccini caught him with any genuine impact, with his leg planted, it's not melodramatic to conclude Liverpool's season would be over after just 10 games. Take away his goals this term and Liverpool would be bottom of the table with just two points and a minus nine goal difference (thanks @OptaJoe).
Pardew described Coloccini of being Bobby Moore-like after his performance at West Ham recently but his skipper had a torrid afternoon against Liverpool's main man. Everything Suarez did reeked of class and his goal is surely an early contender for the best of the season.
Enrique's ball from back to front would normally have elicited a grimace from his manager but when Suarez somehow managed to take the ball on his shoulder, before guilefully side stepping Krul's despairing lunge at his feet and slotting into an empty net it was a thing of real beauty. Newcastle's inability to deal with a routine ball over the top will enrage Pardew but only a true curmudegon would deny Suarez pulled out of the air, literally, a moment of remarkable quality.
On any other day Cabaye's opener against the run of play on the stroke of half-time would have stolen all the plaudits. The Frenchman is key to Newcastle's season and showed why he's reportedly on the radar of several of Europe's top clubs with a strike that must be up there with his best.
Hatem ben Arfa's bewitching wing play on the right left both Sterling and Enrique flummoxed before he clipped a perfectly weighed ball to the back post. Cabaye's control was instant and the searing volley he angled past Brad Jones delectable. Pardew and the Toon faithful will be praying his injury is not serious.
Of the rest, Sterling increasingly looks as if he might just be the real deal and at just 17 is arguably already one of Liverpool's key players. There's been no soft-launch for a player who's already been promoted into Roy Hodgson's England squad and full international honours will surely be achieved before the season is out.For Newcastle credit must be given to a staunch rear-guard action marshalled by Taylor. The block he produced to deny Sterling in the game's dying embers typified a chest beating display by a good old fashioned centre-half. He gets a bonus mark for the manner in which he stood laughing at one of Suarez's more theatrical moments prior his moment of magic.
Brendan Rodgers insists his 'vision' and 'philosophy' will reap rich dividends for Liverpool long-term but he's canny enough to realise overseeing the club's worst start in 20 years places him under real pressure. Amassing 11 points from ten games is nothing less than dire and January can't come soon enough as he looks to rectify a disastrous summer transfer window that someone contrived to leave the club with just one senior striker.
Newcastle are ticking along nicely and a first goal at Anfield since Patrick Kluivert silenced the Kop in 2004 is cause for real celebration. Pardew claims he thought his side would go on to win after opening the scoring but will surely accept in his heart of hearts that taking a draw from a game in which Liverpool created enough chances to win thrice over, represents a point won rather than two dropped.