16 Conclusions on Newcastle 1-2 Liverpool: Nunez, Gordon, Alexander-Arnold, Howe, Van Dijk and…

Matt Stead
Newcastle coaches Jason Tindall and Eddie Howe applaud the fans after losing to Liverpool
Jason Tindall and Eddie Howe lost to Liverpool again

Jurgen Klopp has another of his Liverpool moments, but Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk problems to sort. For Newcastle, that was unforgivable.


1) For a while it has felt as though Jurgen Klopp was kidding himself. That he was singing from the same hymn sheet despite the wavering voices of the choir behind him. That he was trying too hard to convince his players and the fans that nothing had changed despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. That Liverpool still had an indomitable spirit flowing through them. That Liverpool still refused to quit. That Liverpool were still those same mentality monsters who brushed with trophy-laden immortality before falling foul of earthly weaknesses.

The German described himself as “alone with a little belief” when referring to Liverpool’s chances of overcoming a 5-2 Champions League deficit against Real Madrid in March. And he was right. For all the times his team had achieved the unthinkable against stacking odds, last season and this summer has been a humbling experience for all involved. The aura was gone. But he had to retain that belief, even if it made him unique.

Klopp, like any coach, needs moments for his brand of management to work. Tangible things his players and the fans can buy into. Not trophies; the hope is that they are the ultimate destination. But that cannot be reached without a journey on which everyone is shown what can be achieved when pulling together against adversity.

“It’s massive. We will remember it for years and years,” Klopp said when Liverpool came from behind to beat Newcastle 2-1 with a stoppage-time winner last season. “We had once a 3-2 at Newcastle where Divock Origi scored late. I’m not 100 percent sure they all believed until the end but from now on we have to as we showed again it is possible.”

That faith, that belief had waned and egos have been bruised over the past year or so. But somehow, someway, Liverpool have engineered another of those moments Klopp so cherishes. Now to channel it properly.


2) Newcastle, though. After handing out an opening-day hammering to a supposed challenger to their position, those are a chastening eight days which will sour the mood considerably.

In simple terms, that is an unforgivable result. No Champions League team should spurn a goal and man advantage in any circumstance and it is difficult to shake the idea that complacency didn’t play a part.

Eddie Howe’s substitutions will be blamed by many and perhaps they did play a part in ceding control and showing too much respect to Liverpool, but it is peak outcome bias when few were complaining at those changes when they were made. A far bigger issue is how Newcastle not only failed to kill the game off, but breathed life into it with slack finishing, poor decision-making and, frankly, an air of triumph.


3) Their requisite Referee Blame Pass was issued pleasingly early on, as was the one Liverpool promptly discarded once Darwin Nunez popped up to stick it to the PGMOL conspiracy.

Did Trent Alexander-Arnold commit two bookable offences in the opening six minutes? Maybe technically, but if any degree of nuance and context is applied then it is nonsense to pretend he should have been sent off.

The right-back’s first yellow card was given for throwing the ball away after being barged towards the advertising boards by Anthony Gordon. A second could well have been awarded for pulling the Newcastle forward back about a minute later to stop a counter-attack, but it would have been patently ludicrous.

Therein lies one of the issues with the new refereeing directive: punishing such cases of minor dissent as throwing a ball in frustration at being pushed off the pitch by an opponent in the sixth minute of a match is ridiculous, whether it is intended to set the tone or draw the line. It achieves nothing in terms of clamping down on genuine instances of time-wasting and creates incidents whereby both parties feel aggrieved when subsequent calls are inevitably affected. Alexander-Arnold’s later foul on Gordon was worthy of a booking but it would have been preposterous to send him off then, so the entire situation became farcical.

But fair play to Howe for having the gumption to complain that Alexander-Arnold wasn’t sent off. Newcastle might have scraped a draw if they’d had two extra players.


4) These games are often contractually obliged to be referred to as chess matches as both teams proceed with trepidation, fearful of making a decisive mistake or giving anything away in the opening stages with the stakes so high.

This was not that. The chess pieces were dynamite. The board was a raging pit of fire. The turns were taken frantically and seemingly without prior thought. Jason Tindall kept shouting “checkmate” in everyone’s face. It was carnage. It was rapid. It was unsustainable. But in terms of the pace in the first 20 minutes or so of a Premier League game, it must have been close to unparalleled. And the longer it went on, the more it would play into Newcastle’s hands. Liverpool were never going to match their hosts for intensity. They had to try and calm things down; at no point in the first half did they seem to even try.


5) Harry Potter-loving chess player that he is, Alexander-Arnold did not thrive in the mayhem. The right-back was instead suffocated by the ferocity of a febrile St James’ Park.

Gordon set the tone early on with that shoulder barge onto the sidelines, the Liverpool defender’s subsequent yellow card for throwing the ball away magnifying a simmering persecution complex and locking him in an 84-minute spin cycle against a winger who was very much Up For It.

Gordon was ruthless in preying on that vulnerability, running at Alexander-Arnold at every opportunity until his substitution to rapturous applause in the 72nd minute. He was phenomenal in wide positions, but equally effective when drifting into the sort of central areas he impressed in for England this summer; it was that incisive movement which helped him play the pass which contributed to Virgil van Dijk’s sending-off.

It was comfortably the best performance of the 22-year-old’s club career, a match-winning turn promptly wasted by his teammates. Todd Boehly knew all along.


6) For Alexander-Arnold, it conjured memories of a certain Dejan Lovren display against Tottenham in October 2017.

“It was just really bad, bad, bad,” said Jurgen Klopp of Liverpool’s defending in that 4-1 defeat, in which Lovren was taken off at half-time.

Alexander-Arnold should have received the same treatment; he was atrocious. It was his miscontrol of a simple Mo Salah pass which let Gordon in to score and his overall failure to handle the Newcastle forward which gave the hosts impetus and confidence going forward.

The unnecessary early booking and immediate let-off meant Alexander-Arnold had to change his defensive approach to be more passive thereafter but instead he simply let Gordon glide past him throughout, and Newcastle really ought to have capitalised far more often. Harvey Barnes did nothing to expose Alexander-Arnold when he came on, although the momentum had inexorably shifted by then.


7) There is another part of that Klopp quote from the Spurs thrashing six years ago.

“In the decisive moments their desire was bigger than ours,” he said. “Now we have to realise that we are responsible for this and nobody else. Of course we can fix it and we have to fix it as well. It’s our fault, nobody else.”

Liverpool eventually did precisely that, shouldering the responsibility in the most emphatic way possible. For a time they fell into that trap of looking to place external blame but they managed to grow up and escape in time.

But their collective meltdown at Van Dijk’s red card for tripping Alexander Isak was embarrassing, with the Dutchman’s actions particularly pathetic. Leaving aside the contortions that are necessary to disingenuously pretend it was an outrageous injustice rather than simply a difficult call which was ultimately made correctly, those reactions were shambolic and deeply unhelpful at an almost impossible time for officials. From a captain, it was shameful and entitled; Klopp stepping in to prevent things escalating between Van Dijk and Craig Pawson suggests he knew the centre-half had crossed a line, and hopefully the German addresses it privately


8) Luis Diaz was the unfortunate sacrifice when it came to sorting the shape out. He had been the only Liverpool forward who looked vaguely threatening early on, bursting past Kieran Trippier at one point to force a decent save from Nick Pope. But he was probably the easiest block for Klopp to move in this particular game of Jenga, with Joe Gomez coming on.

In those conditions, it was a sublime performance from the defender. Gomez had only featured for a quarter of an hour of the win over Bournemouth and had only played as much as an hour twice in the Premier League since mid-February. But he was impeccable, leading Liverpool for headers won (four) and clearances made (five).

With Van Dijk suspended, Ibrahima Konate injured and Joel Matip made of paper, Gomez will be leaned on in the coming weeks. If he maintains this level then Liverpool will be fine.

Darwin Nunez, Liverpool, August 2023
Darwin Nunez celebrates scoring


9) On the same day Kyle Walker chesting the ball back to Ederson was roundly applauded by the visiting Manchester City fans at Bramall Lane, Kieran Trippier cushioning a loose ball for Pope to collect received some warm St James’ Park appreciation. That is English full-back heritage.


10) Klopp spent more of last season’s weekends than he would have wished extolling the virtues of Alisson’s consistent brilliance. The Brazilian was an island of tranquil excellence in choppy Liverpool seas and this game was no different.

That save in the first half from Miguel Almiron was absolutely exceptional and kept his team in the game. It doesn’t bear thinking about how one can possibly instil a wrist with such strength. Nor where Liverpool would be without him.


11) A relentless first half culminated in Dominik Szoboszlai and Sandro Tonali both displaying remarkable close control and footwork to wriggle free of a crowd of opposing players while retaining possession. It was stunning work in either instance, particularly contained within the mania of the game. Is this why midfielders are so sodding expensive now?


12) The second half started in a completely different tone, with Gordon toasting Alexander-Arnold on the left to set up an Isak chance, before Almiron skied his effort when played in by Joelinton.

Newcastle really were laughably wasteful at times.

But their eventual defeat pointed to a clear issue which Howe must rectify soon. This was the 17th time since he was appointed that Newcastle have had at least 60% possession in a Premier League game, yet their record in those matches is W7 D8 L2 F25 A13. Those are ingrained problems in terms of breaking down deep defences which comes with the territory of their status – and solving them is a necessary part of their evolution.


13) If Howe’s substitutions inadvertently helped change the game in Liverpool’s favour, Klopp’s completed the transformation.

Newcastle could not cope with Diogo Jota and Nunez. The former made an impact even before the latter came on around 20 minutes later, having slid in Salah for a chance Sven Botman blocked superbly. When not leading the line his movement and link-up play can be devastating.

But Nunez was the difference. The Erling Haaland comparisons thankfully lasted a week or so of last season but there is one area in which it remains relevant: the pointlessness of judging their performances based on number of touches. The Uruguayan had nine and won the game; Klopp has to abandon any blueprint which has him playing anywhere but on the shoulder of the last defender. Simplify Nunez’s game to maximise his contribution.


14) Salah was the tireless focal point until then, dropping deep to pull everything together under the watchful eye of at least two Newcastle defenders at all times.

The Egyptian was equally crucial in defence, helping block the passing lanes from Botman to Gordon on which Newcastle built their early dominance, helping shield Alexander-Arnold at his most frail.

It was Salah coming short to play Jota in for the Nunez goal, then 31-year-old’s inch-perfect ball for the second. No starter for either side had a higher pass accuracy. Salah has always been more than a finisher but his overall attacking genius remains underappreciated.


15) The individual mistakes which undid Newcastle will be hard to swallow. The inability of Botman to properly intercept Jota’s pass; the rank failure of Dan Burn to either stop Nunez or catch him offside; the aimless Bruno Guimaraes pass which rebounded off Harvey Elliott and led to Liverpool’s goal.

In an ordinary game those imperfections would not be penalised so completely, but Newcastle left themselves open to the whims of those fine margins. Almiron and Gordon had more shots than Liverpool combined, which is silly.


16) Good to get confirmation that referee John Brooks and VAR Stuart Attwell are great friends, considering the latter decided not to recommend the former check the Van Dijk tackle on the monitor. And thank the lord something happened to hopefully avoid the next week being dominated by chat about it.