A stark contrast
Mark Buckingham saw two displays at the opposite end of the spectrum on show at St James' Park after Liverpool thrashed Newcastle United 6-0
Last Updated: 27/04/13 10:43pm
The alarm bells will be starting to ring on Tyneside following Newcastle United's 6-0 mauling at the hands of Liverpool in a game which produced two performances of such startling contrast.
Liverpool may have been without Luis Suarez, who was serving the first game of his 10-match suspension, but it mattered little as Brendan Rodgers' side delivered one of the displays of the season which possessed pace, creativity and ruthlessness.
Newcastle, if it were imaginable before kick-off, were even more abject than in their 3-0 home defeat by local rivals Sunderland in their previous home game and many disgruntled fans left St James' Park early, while one supporter threw his scarf at the dugout.
Alan Pardew made just one change from the Newcastle side which had produced an impressive first-half performance in last week's 1-1 draw away to West Bromwich Albion. Cheick Tiote was drafted back into the starting line-up to add some steel to the midfield in place of Yoan Gouffran, who dropped to the bench.
Likewise, Liverpool made just the one change to the starting line-up from last week's 2-2 draw at home with Chelsea. No prizes for guessing who was missing as Suarez's place in the side was taken by January signing Daniel Sturridge. There was also a place on the bench for Fabio Borini, who was involved for the first time since February.
Newcastle stuck with their familiar system of a flexible 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation, with Papiss Cisse the focal point of the attack as usual. There was nothing necessarily wrong with the tactics or system that Pardew deployed and pre-match there would have been few quibbles about the formation. What let Newcastle down and contributed to a heaviest home defeat since 1925 was a lack of organisation, leadership and seemingly communication in defence.
Liverpool replicated their opponents' formation, with Sturridge the spearhead, and Philippe Coutinho and Stewart Downing starting from wide positions. However, where Liverpool's approach differed to Newcastle's was in the far greater fluidity of movement from their attacking players. Whether it was down to having relatively little left to play for this season, or the determination to prove a point following Suarez's suspension, there was a freedom about Liverpool's play that has not been seen in many teams this season.
In an attempt to inject some life into Newcastle's game, Pardew made a double change at half-time, with James Perch and Jonas Gutierrez replaced by Hatem Ben Arfa and Gouffran. Perch had missed a glorious chance to pull a goal back for Newcastle before the break and a more natural attacking player was called for. Ben Arfa showed signs of encouragement as he continues to build towards full fitness, while Gouffran struggled to get involved. On 65 minutes, Tiote was replaced by Vurnon Anita to little effect.
Liverpool's first substitution was perfect timing as Borini was introduced on 72 minutes and, within two minutes, he marked his return by poking home the fifth goal. With six minutes to go, Coutinho and Sturridge were given a well-deserved break as Suso and Jonjo Shelvey were brought on to see the game out.
Andre Marriner was a busy man in the first half as the match threatened to boil over on a couple of occasions. Mathieu Debuchy and Sturridge squared up on 20 minutes for a little tete-a-tete and Marriner sensibly cautioned the duo. Just before half-time, there was a little flashpoint when Glen Johnson grabbed Tiote's leg following a challenge by the Newcastle midfielder. Given Johnson had been booked a few minutes earlier, it was a silly reaction from the Liverpool full-back, but Marriner applied common sense to give him the benefit of the doubt. A red card did arrive with 15 minutes to go and Debuchy could have no complaints about his second booking for a rash tackle on Coutinho.
Given the inept nature of Newcastle's performance, particularly in defence, it would seem slightly incongruous to select one of their players as a 'main man' and instead we'll look at two Liverpool players - both of whom were January signings.
With Suarez missing the rest of this season, and the start of next term, his absence has presented Sturridge with a golden opportunity to have an extended run in the side. And it was a chance he grasped with both hands. The winter arrival from Chelsea scored twice, both clinical finishes, and also displayed the unselfish side of his game when laying on Liverpool's second goal for Jordan Henderson. He had also injected life into Liverpool last week when introduced as a half-time substitute against Chelsea and, providing he can maintain a level of consistency in front of goal, his presence could soften the impact of Suarez's suspension.
Brazilian midfielder Coutinho has slotted pretty seamlessly into the Liverpool team since his move from Inter Milan. He possesses a guile, cunning and ingenuity in his passing that was arguably lacking before his arrival and he looks certain to go from strength to strength. A Merseyside derby next week will be a completely different proposition to what he faced today, but he doesn't look a player to shy away from a scrap and he seems destined to be an influential figure for Liverpool in the long term.
With just three games to go, Newcastle are five points above the bottom three, but have played a match more than Wigan. Another win is likely to be enough for the Magpies, but a trip to face former manager Sam Allardyce and ex-striker Andy Carroll at West Ham next weekend is not exactly a favourable prospect. With Arsenal the visitors to St James' Park on the final day of the season, taking on Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road in their penultimate fixture would appear the most likely source of three points.
For Liverpool, it is now largely a case of finishing the season strongly to build momentum for the next campaign. Seventh position looks the likely outcome for the Reds, which is one place higher than 12 months ago, while the current tally of 54 points is already two better than last season. However, catching local rivals Everton in sixth is not beyond Rodgers' side, especially with the Toffees visiting Anfield next weekend and only five points separating the two clubs. If Liverpool win that one, then they will be confident, at the very least, of winning their final two games against Fulham and QPR.