Liverpool starting to believe they can win the Premier League following rout of Newcastle
LIVERPOOL, England -- Three quick thoughts on the whistle from Liverpool's 4-0 win over Newcastle United on Boxing Day.
1. Surging Liverpool go six points clear
Liverpool's push for their first-ever Premier League title is going from strength to strength. At the halfway point in the league season, Liverpool find themselves six points clear at the top of the table and around Anfield, people are starting to believe this may be the season when its 28-year wait for the league title comes to an end.
A spectacular 11th-minute goal from Dejan Lovren and second-half goals from Mohamed Salah, Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho saw Liverpool breeze past a poor Newcastle side. Jurgen Klopp's side was also given a helping hand from Leicester City, who beat Manchester City 2-1.
Liverpool have now amassed 51 points in 2018-19, their best-ever start to a season. To provide context about such an achievement, Klopp's side have moved within one point of Liverpool's entire tally in the 2011-12 campaign -- the last time the club won a trophy.
In line with his talk about not letting up, Klopp took no risks with his team selection. The usual front three started, with Shaqiri thrown in to serve as an extra attacker. In the end, none of Liverpool's attackers delivered the opening goal but it was a strike either of the four would have been proud of.
When Andrew Robertson's deep cross was headed clear, the ball fell to Lovren who, without hesitation, struck his right foot through the rebound on the half-volley and sending the ball flying into the top corner. Liverpool had chances to increase their lead but headed into half-time feeling frustrated. However, it would only be a matter of seconds after the restart for the important second goal to be found in rather rare fashion.
Salah was clipped in the penalty area by Paul Dummet, with referee Graham Scott pointing to the spot. It was the first penalty in the league at Anfield that Liverpool were awarded in 424 days. The Egypt international dusted himself off and slotted home the resulting spot-kick for his sixth goal in his last five appearances.
Even at 2-0, there were no signs of a comeback from Newcastle but Liverpool added two more just to make sure. Shaqiri poked in from Trent Alexander-Arnold's inviting cross before Fabinho nodded in from a corner kick for his first Liverpool goal.
Word of City's scoreline then spread like wildfire around Anfield. It may not have seemed possible but Liverpool's Christmas has become even more jubilant.
2. Lovren stepping up again, and at both ends
Lovren isn't a man short of self-belief so it was no surprise to see the centre-half back himself entirely when the ball sat up kindly for him inside the penalty area and in front of the Kop.
Suffice to say, this was not the first ambitious attempt at goal Lovren has taken in his Liverpool career. The centre-half's confidence tends to come through his comments in the media. There were those in the summer when he proclaimed to be one of the best defenders in the world after helping Croatia reach the World Cup final.
Then there was his recent interview following the Manchester United victory. Lovren, probably much to the displeasure of his manager, voluntarily declared that this Liverpool team were capable of going the season unbeaten, matching Arsenal's "Invincibles" in 2003-04. But for all the ridicule Lovren receives whenever he commits an error, he is a centre-half with whom Liverpool can win the Premier League, something he proved when he stepped up during Liverpool's run to the Champions League final last season.
Virgil van Dijk's arrival has certainly helped too, with the two striking up a well-balanced partnership since January. With Joe Gomez and Joel Matip returning from injury shortly after the new year, Liverpool posses more than enough at centre-back to maintain this title challenge.
For once, Lovren will not have to say anything to grab the headlines. He did his talking on the pitch with a solid performance, a lovely goal and a clean sheet to show for it.
3. Newcastle continue to struggle near the bottom
Christmas is said to be the time of miracles, although Rafa Benitez is hoping the period for extraordinary events is postponed until May. In the manager's very own words, Newcastle staving off relegation this season will be a "miracle." While other relegation rivals were allowed to splash the cash, Benitez has had to manage Newcastle, who finished 10th last season, on a shoestring budget. As a result, it's painfully clear that there are holes and lack of quality everywhere in his squad.
Benitez has been forced to build a side more suited to playing away from home rather than in front of their own 50,000 boisterous home supporters. So far, 10 of their 17 points earned so far this season have been away from St. James' Park. However, it was clear they would not add to that tally here very early on, perhaps even when the team sheets landed.
Newcastle lined up a five-man defence at Anfield, with Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez starting on the bench. Benitez and the threadbare remains of his squad must now move on to a more winnable game at Watford on Saturday.
We'll see in January whether Benitez got the Christmas presents he so desires. It's simple: Newcastle need better players.