It wasn’t particularly pretty and, in truth, it wasn’t overly enjoyable to watch; attack versus defence rarely is.
The usual suspects were on target for Jürgen Klopp’s men either side of half time. Mo Salah struck the opener after good work from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mané netted the second after a neat assist from Roberto Firmino.
The German now has nine clean sheets in 18 games for Liverpool this term, he may just convince Klopp a new goalkeeper in the summer isn’t required.
Liverpool have moved up to second in the top flight following the win, a position many expect them to finish come May, and here are the five things we learned from the Reds’ win.
Benítez Game Plan Unravels On Anfield Return
The Spanish coach enjoyed a six-year spell in charge of the Reds and the reception he received prior to kick-off was proof there remains a strong bond between Benítez and the club’s supporters.
But for 90 minutes it was all business and Benítez was hoping to keep up an impressive record against Liverpool; he had never been beaten by the Merseysiders.
The Magpies sat deep and attempted to frustrate the Reds when they were in possession, which the visitors did excellently for the majority of the first half. Unfortunately one small mistake in midfield proved costly and Salah opened the scoring.
Benitez, whose side had just 25.1 per cent possession in the first half, didn’t change system after the break, and that was despite going 2-0 down in the 55th minute when Mané struck.
While understandable it was uninspiring, particularly for the travelling supporters who wanted to see at least a little ambition.
Klopp gets Can all right
There were a few eyebrows raised among Liverpool fans when the Reds side was confirmed, largely because Emre Can was included in the starting XI.
It had nothing to do with his talent, but more to do with his discipline. Can came into the game on nine yellow cards and with Manchester United to come next weekend it seemed as though Klopp was taking an unnecessary risk; one more and he would be suspended.
But given Liverpool dominated possession the German midfielder had very little defensive work to do, and what he did involved no risk. There was no challenging for 50/50 balls or conceding cheap tactical fouls. Can played cautiously but intelligently.
Of the three Liverpool midfielders, Jordan Henderson completed four tackles and three interceptions, Oxlade-Chamberlain three tackles and two interceptions and Can the same despite playing eleven minutes more than the Englishman.
It demonstrates Can eased his way through the game. Klopp got his team selection spot on.
Oxlade-Chamberlain must continue to be more authoritative
There is still a nagging feeling that Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t completely confident in this Liverpool side.
He has done little wrong since moving to Anfield from Arsenal in the summer and there have been excellent performances and moments of magic, but they have been dotted across the season.
The challenge for the England international is to dictate and decide games for the Reds on a weekly basis.
While he doesn’t have the same raw ability as the departed Philippe Coutinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain can replicate key aspects of the Brazilian’s game; namely opening up deep-lying defences by driving forward and taking opposing players out of the game.
It’s what he did for Liverpool’s first goal, his powerful run eliminated the Newcastle midfield and opened up space for Salah. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass was perfect and the Egyptian finished.
It was a snapshot of what the 24-year-old is capable of, and it’s something Liverpool need more often, especially against sides who sit deep.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is a very technically gifted player and he combines that with a burst of acceleration. With a little more self-belief, there’s no reason he can’t be the key that unlocks countless more defences for the Klopp’s side.
No striker can thrive in this Newcastle set-up
It was difficult not to feel for Dwight Gayle at Anfield. He was given a thankless task up front, one that was unlikely to reap any kind of reward.
He hassled, harried and pressurised the Liverpool defenders but, apart from one first half shot from 25 yards that went high and wide, never came close to threatening the goal.
Gayle lasted 65 minutes before being replaced by Spanish striker Joselu, he had touched the ball just 16 times, which was no fault of his own.
Benítez’s set-up at Anfield was sound, Newcastle would’ve been picked off with ease if they’d played expansive, attacking football from the outset. But at 2-0 down and with nothing to lose, it was disappointing to see a striker replace a striker.
Admittedly the Magpies boss may be wary of goal difference as it could be a factor come the end of the season, but as discussed in this article, it may be time for Benítez to let Newcastle off the leash a little.
Mané coming into form at the ideal time
This season has been a strange one for the Senegal international. Mané hasn’t produced the same scintillating displays as last term and has looked out of sorts in several matches, yet he has scored 14 goals and registered seven assists in 30 games – for many players it would be a standout campaign
The promising sign for Liverpool is Mané appears to be coming into top form at just the right moment. His confidence in front of goal has returned and he has struck five times in his last three matches.
Against Newcastle he was on the periphery of the game – he didn’t complete a single dribble or play a key pass – but at the crucial moment he came alive.
Coming off the left flank, he was involved in an interchange of passes with Can and Firmino and then finished well when he received the ball back from the Brazilian.
It was a decisive impact and ensured he beat last season’s tally of 13 goals with at least ten more games to play.