LIVERPOOL travelled to St James’ Park knowing that Rafa Benitez’s side would be set up to frustrate.
That is a fact.
The problem is Liverpool never seem to have a plan in these sort of games to break down sides that play in such a way and then a very familiar pattern follows.
Once again today Newcastle found it all too easy to get the goal which they are more than capable of sitting on for a large period and Liverpool’s defence is once again at fault for that.
Too often, save for some more recent performances, The Reds attack is giving the plaudits while the defence leaves so many scratching their heads.
But one attacker in particular who should be taking those plaudits is Philippe Coutinho.
Since a rollercoaster of a summer where Barcelona tried to prize him away from Anfield, the Brazilian has shown great attitude and, more importantly, has shot straight back into form.
His goals against Leicester City and Spartak Moscow are strikes that Liverpool fans know him to be capable of, though there were doubts from some corners as to whether Coutinho would down tools after being denied his dream move.
It’s a shame that Coutinho’s genius has been cancelled out for the second time in a week by suspect passages of play in between midfield and defence — though some will push blame his way for conceding the freekick in Moscow, which ignores the errors of Emre Can and Loris Karius.
For all Coutinho’s fleet footedness and ability to strike a ball, Liverpool were once again undermined by a lapse in concentration.
While the decision not to strengthen the centre of defence looks more suspect with every passing game, adopting a strong stance to keep hold of Coutinho looks to be absolutely the right choice.
Though there were a large majority in favour of Fenway Sports Group’s decision to release a public statement reaffirming that the Brazilian would not be sold at any price, there were still factions that believed his bridges had been burnt and/or The Reds should have been cashing in and reinvesting the money.
That suggestion looks all the more ridiculous now given Coutinho’s recent form.
To sell him would have caused complete uncertainty with just weeks/days left in the transfer window and where do you even start trying to replace somebody of Coutinho’s brilliance, no matter how much money is burning a hole in your back pocket?
In games like today’s it takes a bit of magic to unlock a well-organised, defensive outfit set up to frustrate and Coutinho has shown time and again he is the one to produce that magic.
The defence may continue to leave Reds scratching heads, but Phil’s brilliance can no longer be denied.