It may have broken a 46-year streak without a goalless draw but there was plenty to enjoy as Newcastle United and Liverpool held each other to a stalemate in the Premier League’s final game of 2020.
Indeed Steve Bruce’s side might reflect on the chances that might have earned them more with Callum Wilson and Ciaran Clark going close in a game where Newcastle at least attempted to push forward at the right moments. It would be unwise to overstate the extent to which they set the tempo of the game — they only had 28 percent possession after all — but they were determined to try more than just damage control.
For all Newcastle’s impressive commitment in attack they needed goalkeeper Karl Darlow to make two brilliant saves, first from Mohamed Salah and then Roberto Firmino, to reach the interval at parity. Those two would combine for another superb chance just after the hour with the former somehow missing an unpressured opportunity on his favored left foot.
The introduction of Thiago for his first appearance since Oct. 17 only added to the pressure on the Newcastle goal late on but Darlow came to the Magpies rescue in the dying moments, saving low from Firmino’s goalbound header to ensure they ended 2020 with a point. Read on for the key talking points from the game.
Newcastle try another way
If you were bracing yourself for a repeat of Sunday’s at times stultifying draw between West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool, more attack vs defense training exercise in the first half than top-tier football match, rest assured that you were not alone. After all it is not without cause that Newcastle supporters have grown so frustrated with the football played under Steve Bruce.
But whilst you would hardly confuse this with the mid-90s goalfests between these two there was at least attacking endeavor from both sides, a commitment to chasing the win in a responsible way. Newcastle committed bodies down the wing, looked for the overlap and were not afraid to commit numbers to set pieces. It was nearly rewarded early on when Callum Wilson twice went close, indeed it took an excellent block from Fabinho to deny the striker after he shrugged Nathaniel Phillips away from proceedings.
Newcastle coupled that exceptional defending in the first half, notably a diving tackle in his own area by Deandre Yedlin on Salah that came moments after Darlow had made himself big enough to block the Egyptian at close range. Their backs were more firmly to the wall in the second half but even then the mobile, aggressive and composed Wilson up front meant that Fabinho and Rhys Williams could never push up quite as high as they had against West Brom.
The parallels with Sunday were inescapable. Three days ago the game turned on a header from a center-back up for a set piece but where Semi Ajayi’s beat Alisson the Liverpool goalkeeper did just enough to deny Ciaran Clarke. Of course at that time had Newcastle found the net they would have claimed three points rather than just one.
Firmino set for a happier new year
Perhaps even just the sight of 2021 on the horizon has been enough to revive Firmino. Though last year was one of great success for Liverpool their Brazilian No. 9 endured frustration aplenty when in front of goal, scoring just four club goals between Jan. 1 and Oct. 23.
It has always been true that there is more to Firmino’s game than just putting the ball in the net but that truism at times obscured the reality that the 29-year-old had previously been a robust source of goals in addition to everything else he did. After all we are not that far removed from the 2017-18 season when he scored one every other game.
Whether the addition of a free-scoring Diogo Jota, currently sidelined with a knee injury that has no fixed return date, as a rival has spurred Firmino on only he will know but the Brazilian has certainly snapped into life in recent weeks. In part that has been reflected by his return on the scoresheet, three goals and an assist in three before tonight’s game, but there was a certain zip to his play tonight that was not there throughout 2020.
That was typified when he shrewdly dropped into space, spun his defender and slipped Salah in behind. It should have got him an assist, he would have had a goal had Darlow not been in such inspired form. More often than not he would have got at least one if not both.
Carry this form into the new year and 2021 will feel like a very different year from a personal perspective where Firmino is concerned.
Karl Darlow: It might be fair to cut him slack for getting caught out chasing a second-half corner, he deserves it for at least three spectacular saves that raised hope that Liverpool could be denied. RATING: 8
Andrew Robertson: The pure range of passing that the left-back showed was quite remarkable even for a player of his quality. RATING: 7
Mohamed Salah: What a curious game this was from the Egyptian, who kept getting into all the right positions but was remarkably wasteful. His two shots were worth a combined 0.91xG, certainly not sitters but the sort of opportunities you would expect Salah to bury at least one of. RATING: 4
Premier League outlook
Liverpool, who have now failed to beat four of the bottom six, remain top of the table but their three-point lead over Manchester United looks slim, particularly having played a game more than their rivals. Newcastle, meanwhile, moved up to 14th and are eight points from the Premier League drop zone.