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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 13 hours ago
Read
Apr 27, 2013

Coutinho pulls strings to torment Toon

Relief. That was the palpable and unanimous emotion emanating from St James' Park on Saturday evening. Liverpool had proved that they were not the talismanic team that is so oft claimed - a theory Rodgers believes is a media construct.

That didn't stop them showing solidarity towards their fallen hero. "He bites who he wants," the vocal backing to a banner that claimed hypocrisy during his sentencing.

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In recording their biggest win of the season they also condemned Newcastle to their worst home defeat in 87 years. Their relief came when the final whistle sounded, ending a tormenting evening that did not go well against the backdrop of the spring sunshine that draped the pitch.

The Magpies were looking for a response to the recent humiliation of losing 3-0 to Sunderland. Hoping to witness a repeat of the first game Alan Pardew had managed when they battered the Reds 3-1, instead they received an altogether more harrowing example of deja vu from the season in which they were relegated.

Liverpool put five past them that year, as they began a post-Christmas slump into the relegation places and eventually the Championship. A disjointed eleven highlighted the pandemic levels of instability surging through the club. While it hasn't quite reached those depths yet, fans will be forgiven for feeling the same sense of unease at their Premier League status.

Perhaps most concerning of all was how meekly they fell to their opposition. Just like that ill-fated side of 2009, they lacked enthusiasm or fight despite holding a number of internationals. Admittedly there were bright periods, particularly at the start of the second half. That was a consequence of Pardew's half-time decision to bring Yoan Gouffran and Hatem Ben Arfa into the game, the latter of whom had heard his name ring round St James' Park, as is par for the course when Newcastle fall behind.

Even the introduction of the mercurial wideman could not change the game's complexion - by that point it was over as a contest. That's because Liverpool had been unusually clinical. Discussion was meant to centre on an exciting diminutive South American, and it duly did. "He could be a top player." Rodgers said of Coutinho, who had just enjoyed arguably the best game of his short Liverpool career.

Content playing deeper or more advanced the former Inter player consistently carved channels through a fragile Newcastle defence. Providing Daniel Sturridge with ample opportunity to impress in Luis Suarez's absence, it was the club's other January signing that did most damage to the scoreline.

A kindred spirit with Suarez, his close control is supplemented by clever positioning that saw him inhabit exactly the kind of positions that centre-backs are loathe to engage in. Providing a complete performance, there were even brief glimpses at the facets of his game he can improve upon.

Over complicating play and even engaging in the occasional dive, his actions did not befit a player blessed with such talent, and one that is benefiting from playing in a side that holds a strong team ethic. That same mentality is one that is not currently present at Newcastle.

By the time Sturridge had added a third, their performance had become ragged as they chased the game both figuratively and literally. With a clutch of players still learning the nuances of the English game, they often found themselves on the wrong side of the rulebook.

It was something that became a more relevant issue when Mathieu Debuchy was sent off. Sporting a new more refined haircut, his performance was bereft of the composure associated with an international calibre player. Scything down Coutinho to earn his second yellow card, there was every chance Liverpool could have recorded double figures in the 15 minutes that remained.

As it turned out they actually only added one more, with Henderson netting his second of the match from the resulting free-kick. Having endured a testing time at Anfield since his £16million move from nearby Sunderland, he is one of a number that Rodgers seems to have revitalised.

Channelling his athletic assets into a role that negates Steven Gerrard's aging legs, he even added to the side's creative output with a precision ball to Sturridge that should have seen the striker earn the match ball. By far his side's best performance of the season, Rodgers desire to nit-pick shows a meticulous approach that will serve him well as he looks to build Liverpool's exciting new future.

Meanwhile, for the loyal pockets that remained until the end, gallows humour as they cheered 'ole' at each completed pass.

Fandom of Newcastle is often a masochistic pursuit. Pardew offered no excuses in the wake of the game, but the message that his side would come out fighting. Looking punch-drunk at present, Newcastle have to win one of the final three rounds if they are to avoid a knockout that could easily see them struggle to return to the biggest stage.

Man of the match: Philippe Coutinho. Rodgers was right to describe Coutinho as a top player in his post-match press conference. A delightfully gifted player, despite his slight frame he showed that he can more than cope with the physical demands of the Premier League. A central figure to everything his side created, Liverpool would be wise to build the team around the Brazilian, giving him even more license to create.

Newcastle verdict: Against a rampant Liverpool side the Magpies picked a bad time to put in their worst performance of the season. Ragged and lacking in leadership, the lack of effort from some of the club's key players is a worrying sign. As is Pardew's persistence with Jonas Gutierrez. Once a rampaging winger, his constant selection in the first time is a surprise given how little he now offers.

Liverpool verdict: Clinical, dangerous, and quick in possession, Rodgers side hold a level of potential that should really excite Liverpool fans. If the club can secure the right pieces in the summer then they could begin to look at challenging for the top four. If they can also add quality reserves to supplement the first team that goal of the top four becomes even more achievable.

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