Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Newcastle United 1 Liverpool 2 in the Premier League at St. James’ Park…
YOU’D have taken a point.
The smart money is to take a point before a ball is kicked. The super smart money is to take a point at 1-1 when down to 10.
Today, Liverpool were anything but smart. Today, Liverpool were so often bloody stupid. Bloody stupid in their decisions, in their passing, in their shape.
Today, Liverpool were victorious and today I have never loved a football team more.
Today, Liverpool showed that the eternal footballing value of hanging in for dear life and seeing where your luck is at remains a special one regardless of what is fashionable. Today they showed that having attacking talent coming out of your ears – Diogo Jota, Harvey Elliott, Darwin Nunez, the unused Ben Doak – means you always have a way. Today they showed that you build a season and sometimes you build it on anger.
There is a power to being angry. There is a power to being angry at bad refereeing, at ridiculous red cards and at a stadium full of magpies determined to steal the glistening win. There is a power to saying Fuck This Shit.
Darwin Nunez is that energy and he uses the anger. Today three points isn’t just three points. It’s a two-fingered salute to all that is wrong with the game we love. It may be raging against the dying of the light, but have you seen me? Raging against that is all we have.
Will Virgil van Dijk’s red card be the second red card Liverpool FC see overturned in two games? Who knows. But that this is the question shows where we are. Referees need authority. They consistently undermine their own authority. Without authority, players aren’t likely to accept their decisions, are they?
The first Trent Alexander-Arnold decision is wrong. It was a foul. It was really obviously a foul. The second Trent decision also was not controversial. Players get booked for that foul about 10 per cent of the time. It was not a definite yellow in any circumstances. It was a borderline yellow at most. Also, I’d query whether Trent threw the ball away in any meaningful way in the first place.
The referee is actively bad. Just before halftime Joelinton fouls everyone for a laugh, like a nan with a bingo card approaching shouting ee-ah. The referee does nothing. The same referee felt Tyrone Mings putting his studs into Cody Gakpo’s chest was a yellow. However, forget the same referee, up and down the country at the minute these clowns are making all their lives harder.
We are in a world where Newcastle know that this is the game where they have to show they are the big man of the league. This game is so often about status. Not least because this is how the television sets it up. The framing is telling and we’re raging against the dying of that light too.
It is all ego. And what better way to reduce your opponent’s manhood than reducing them to 10 men? It’s what they are in it for. And it’s what they get so fair play to them.
Today: But now what? Because Newcastle are built to a very specific spec. They are all artisans, no artists. Today should actually lead to Newcastle wondering – now what?
One of the problems with the Newcastle approach is that it is reductionist and brutal and unsubtle, if they aren’t careful they will bring shame to the noble reputation of Saudi Arabia.
For sure, Liverpool are not the best version of themselves for the first half, despite the referee. You’d have taken a point. Today.
St James’ Park get us down. Missed passes all over the shop. Trent is the target for them and it is his mistake that allows Gordon the chance he wanted. Fair enough. This Liverpool is still working out how to deal with big waves of turbulence within and without and it needs to learn soon.
Endo does a job. He carries the piano. Alisson is on form, thank goodness, and makes no errors. After Van Dijk’s bizarre dismissal we do not falter as much as we might. Alexis Mac Allister struggles, Harvey Elliott doesn’t. Dominik Szoboszlai is consistent.
Joe Gomez and Joel Matip do brilliantly under the circumstances. I’ve had concerns on the latter especially, but he holds his nerve throughout today. That doesn’t mean things don’t need to be different tomorrow, but it does mean gobshites like myself may need to hold their tongues.
But today two things happen. Diogo Jota happens. And then Darwin Nunez happens. My god, does Darwin Nunez happen. He is, today, the number nine of your dreams. He is the way you conceive of the position if you write for Roy Of The Rovers or Ted Lasso. He swashbuckles. He swordfights. He is a pirate. He is magnificent and unstoppable and perfect and he is every answer.
It is an astonishing Liverpool performance and an irresistible one.
It was all set up to be a loss, and Gary Neville’s commentary willed it along. But Liverpool’s forwards are angry on behalf of Liverpool’s defenders. In their anger, they find extra pace, extra sharpness, extra force. The manager picks their moment. And Jota and Nunez prove him correct. Today.
The manager has a big job to do with this Liverpool side. Whatever is going on (and its a lot) in global football, Liverpool still need to win football matches, and do the basics well. We need to care not just about the players as individuals, but also about the spaces between them.
The good news is that Jürgen Klopp knows it. The good news is that our players are angry about being treated like a punch bag by teams who believe it is their turn to win. The good news is that every footballer needs to be 10 per cent junk yard dog when it counts when they play for Liverpool.
Today it counted. Today they all counted.
The real news is that this is hard. Our anger will never be enough. Our frustration isn’t enough. So the trick against teams like Newcastle is to be able to change quickly and respond – just as Jota and Nunez saw. Recognise where cynical teams will try to frustrate and dominate Liverpool and use our speed and skill up front to get back. Hard, but not impossible.
The real news is that being Liverpool means we will not be left alone, means we will always have a target.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has a target. A constant target. The endless, exhausting mini drama of Trent Alexander-Arnold plays out in the concession of the goal. But it plays out in him giving our end the big one on 94.
Think about that, because he is. He knows how this could have been viewed, but there he is, armband and three points. There he is, excellent since the break and filled with intelligence and calm. There he is today, maybe got away with one, maybe worthy of one, maybe brilliant and ultimately ours.
There he is today, giving it the big one on 94 because he knew Newcastle had been broken again. Today.
These lads are all ours. Today and tomorrow. Love them because there is nothing else today and tomorrow, while we may well need more, we need these too.
Well done today, Reds. Anger used wisely. Effort against frustration. Keep going.
Tomorrow we need more. But today is bliss. Because we have the best attack in the world.
You’d have taken a point. But not today.
“At half time I was done with footy, done with the season, done with life and now Darwin Nunez is firing us to glory, we’re gonna win everything!” 🤣
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) August 27, 2023