Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain impress, Liverpool beat Benitez, Newcastle
LIVERPOOL -- Three thoughts on Liverpool's 2-0 win vs. Newcastle in the Premier League.
1. Salah keeps scoring, Liverpool keep winning
Mohamed Salah goals and Liverpool victories have been the tale over recent months and see Jurgen Klopp's side bidding for the Premier League's runners-up spot, as well as putting together a run in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Liverpool climbed back into to second place after a hard-fought, 2-0 win over their former manager, Rafael Benitez and Newcastle.
The Reds started the game fourth and may have feared they would stay there, having been frustrated for 40 minutes until Salah's opening goal, his 32nd of the season in all competitions.
Sadio Mane scored the other goal -- Liverpool's 200th in the league under Klopp -- to wrap up three points; Liverpool now hope Crystal Palace can do them a favour when they play Manchester United on Monday.
Benitez's name was routinely chanted by both sets of fans around Anfield and he is still adored on Merseyside. But that hasn't stopped the Spaniard from proving a difficult opponent for Liverpool in recent history; Saturday's victory was their first in six attempts against a Benitez-led team.
It was clear early that the onus would be firmly on Liverpool, who needed to remain patient to break down Newcastle's organised 5-4-1 formation, and it looked like Klopp's half-time team talk would be based on how to find a way through their stubborn opponents.
But any frustration was eased five minutes before the break when Salah made the most of his first clear-cut chance. Shortly after half-time, Mane's first opportunity of the game was converted after a neat through ball from Roberto Firmino.
Liverpool eased their way through the rest of the game with important tasks ahead, such as a trip to Old Trafford next Saturday. It was not a vintage display against Newcastle and one that will largely be forgotten by the season's end, but the result is just as meaningful as any other victory this term.
2. Oxlade-Chamberlain takes his chance to impress
Just two goals between Salah, Firmino and Mane is a relative quiet day by their own high standards, and the impact of the trio was initially softened by Newcastle's stubborn defensive showing. It meant Liverpool's attacking responsibility was more evenly distributed to other areas of the team, and from midfield, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was willing to step up.
It was noticeable just how often he was willing to get into the final third. He claimed the assist for Salah's opener when he pounced on a loose ball in the centre of the pitch before driving at the opposing back line until a passing lane for Salah opened up.
Oxlade-Chamberlain made the most of James Milner's slight knock, which limited him to the substitutes bench, and provided Klopp with a reminder of what his summer signing can offer Liverpool against defensive-minded teams.
Milner is highly thought of by the Liverpool manager, and his experience and know-how have made him one of the first names on the team sheet for high-profile matches. But Liverpool's run-in this season will see similar tests to Newcastle, meaning Oxlade-Chamberlain can come into his own.
3. Hero Benitez plans to keep Newcastle up
In December, Benitez came in for heavy criticism over the way he approached a home encounter with champions-elect Manchester City, but he nearly earned a point against Pep Guardiola's side.
In his eyes, it was the only way for his under-resourced Newcastle to combat a heavyweight, attacking side. It's understandable thinking given Newcastle are painfully short on goals: Dwight Gayle is the team's top scorer in the league with just five.
Saturday's lineup may have hinted at Benitez thinking more on the front foot at Anfield, but the inclusion of the speedy Christian Atsu and Jacob Murphy was purely for counter-attacking purposes; from the moment the game kicked off, Benitez was happy with what Newcastle had in hand.
This was just their second league defeat since the turn of the year, with a place above the relegation zone maintained largely through draws and the occasional win. Settling for a point can have its risks, especially when relegation rivals pull off unlikely victories like Swansea's thrashing of West Ham United on Saturday.
But the calculated Benitez is hedging his bets on draws being enough. With four in their past eight fixtures and Newcastle sitting 16th, their manager might have found a working formula, if not a winning one.
Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.