As far as conclusions to such a historic a calendar year go, this was about as disappointing as Liverpool could’ve made it.
Despite a tepid opening gambit and an inspired performance from Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow, you always got the feeling that one of Liverpool’s front three would strike it lucky before the end.
Alas, their good fortune was in short supply and Liverpool end the year with four points dropped in extremely winnable games versus West Brom and Newcastle Utd.
It was not what we sought, but as ever, there are lessons to be learnt and conclusions to be formed from what Jurgen Klopp somewhat surprisingly believed was a good performance.
1. Rotation vs Continuity
We were pleased to see so few changes made to the starting eleven pre-match. This was just about the strongest eleven Liverpool could field given the circumstances of such a lengthy injury list and Thiago Alcantara never likely to start after a long lay-off.
This season’s condensed schedule makes the age-old battle of rotation versus continuity of selection even more important.
Do you stick with the go-to stars and pray they hold up to the rigours of 180 minutes every week? Or do you chop and change and risk the ignominy of dropped points with a superstar sat twiddling his thumbs on the bench?
As of yet, there is no clear answer, but what we do know is that this title race is not going to be won with seven games to spare like last year.
We just pray that whichever side of the philosophy Klopp comes down on turns out to be the right one.
2. Fabinho is even more impressive than you think
A recent social media poll asked Liverpool fans to state their top five players of the season so far.
Fabinho made virtually all of the lists, but it was Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson that took top spot for the vast majority.
The versatile Brazilian has been a standout performer this season. No secret there. But what needs to be hammered home is just how vital his displays have been knowing that they are all coming out of his favoured position.
The result at St. James; Park was disappointing, but it could’ve a hell of a lot worse if not for Fabinho.
A moment of naivety from Nat Phillips let Callum Wilson slip free. Who was there to mop up? You guessed it.
Soon after the interval, DeAndre Yedlin – a former US high school sprinter – threatened to race through on goal, but was cynically blocked off by Fabinho to the tune of a yellow card. It was the perfect foul at the perfect time and without those two instances, we could be talking about a defeat, not a draw.
Fabinho vs Newcastle
• 95% passing (1st in game)
• 86/91 passes (1st)
• 101 touches (3rd)
• 5/7 aerial duels (2nd)
• 1/1 tackle
• 4 clearances (1st for LFC)
• 2 interceptions
• Not dribbled past
• Clean sheet
Reliable as ever 👌 pic.twitter.com/XsAEJ0liTY
— LFC Stats (@LFCData) December 30, 2020
At Monaco, he played as a right-back before transitioning into midfield after Tiemoue Bakayoko’s departure for Chelsea. Centre-back is as alien to him as playing in midfield is to Mohamed Salah, or in the front three for Robertson.
When all is said and done, Fabinho may well be our player of the year.
3. Mentality shift required
Liverpool accrued 73% of possession in the contest. A few clear-cut chances were fashioned, but for that level of ball dominance against the league’s sixth-worst defence, was it enough?
The answer is no, but the more pertinent question is why?
Too many times in the first half especially, Liverpool opted to play it safe. Recycling of possession is rarely a bad thing, and we’re not advocating the Hollywood ball route, but on many occasions the initiative was lost amid a flurry of sideways and backward passes as Newcastle hastily retreated into their shape.
After a dour opening half hour #LFC have finally come alive.
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) December 30, 2020
Against these types of opponents, greater risk can be taken. Few teams of this ilk will leave more than one man up the pitch, meaning even if a risky pass fails, the numbers simply aren’t there in the counter to effectively punish you.
This was more evident against West Brom, but reared its ugly head again tonight. Caution must be thrown to the wind earlier and more often against this calibre of opposition.
4. Thiago’s importance cannot be overstated
It was fantastic to see the classy Spaniard named on the bench after that horror challenge from Richarlison. It was even better to see him out on the field.
Thiago the best player on the pitch and he's been on for 10 minutes.
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) December 30, 2020
His first telling contribution was almost a gamebreaker.
He received the ball, took one look up and without hesitation, pinged a delightfully weighted 40-yard cross-field ball to Trent Alexander-Arnold in stride.
It helped create the opportunity that almost saw Sadio Mane bumble the ball home off his knee, and served as a reminder that his importance in unlocking tight defences will be needed more frequently than we all would’ve hoped this season.
Grab your prayer beads and join us in hoping he remains injury-free from here on out.
5. Visions of 2008/09
The 2008/09 season was the closest Liverpool came to lifting the Premier League trophy in the first 22 years of the competition.
The heroic displays of Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard filled us with hope.
But despite boasting the league’s best goal difference and completing the double home and away over Man Utd, the Reds ultimately fell four points short.
The reason was a simple one. Too many draws against teams Man Utd were beating.
11 stalemates were notched, including bitterly disappointing draws with Stoke (twice), Hull and Wigan. Sound familiar?
In the current campaign, Liverpool have already dropped points against Brighton, Fulham, West Brom and now Newcastle.
Bruno Fernandes has Man Utd purring, and it’s a truly haunting thought to think this campaign could well end up like that ill-fated season from 13 years ago if we continue to stumble against lower calibre teams.
6. A duet became a solo… and it sucks
With Tottenham’s fixture with Fulham postponed, Liverpool had the footballing audience’s attention all to themselves on Wednesday night. That’s not a good thing.
That cancellation is the third Premier League fixture to see disruption in the month of December – the second post-Christmas.
This won’t be surprising to readers from the UK, but for those of you from overseas, the current Covid-19 situation in the British Isles ranges from somewhere between bad to terrible.
The latest round of Premier League testing returned 18 positives – a record high since league-wide testing began.
An official Premier League statement was issued on Wednesday evening, stressing their commitment to fulfill their obligations and forge ahead with the competition.
The Premier League has not discussed pausing the season and has no plans to do so
The League continues to have confidence in its COVID-19 protocols to enable fixtures to be played as scheduled
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 30, 2020
But if the situation continues to descend across the country and the number of positives among playing personnel in particular continues to rise, the decision may be taken out of their hands.
Do not be surprised to see some form of footballing pause in the new year.