Newcastle 1-2 Liverpool (Gordon 25′ | Van Dijk red card 28′, Nunez 81′, 90’+3)
ST JAMES’ PARK — After the boiled blood, first blood to Jurgen Klopp in Liverpool‘s roiling top four battle with Newcastle United.
A frenetic contest that hurtled between melodrama and moments of quality ended with an outstanding win for Klopp’s 10 men that felt substantial.
The season may only be three games old but the nature of this victory felt like Liverpool and their irascible manager planting a Champions League-shaped flag slap bang in the middle of the St James’ Park turf.
Before then it was a wild afternoon, dominated by red cards, phantom yellow cards and the spikiness simmering between the two benches. But Liverpool swiped the spoils, braving the storm with a performance of impressive maturity to land a significant early season blow.
“Super special,” Klopp said afterwards. Like nothing else in his 1,000 game coaching career, he added later on. It was that kind of day.
For Newcastle, a hugely chastening defeat. “As painful as [losing in injury time] last season. We are kicking ourselves not to have got something from it,” a deflated Eddie Howe said. He looked pained. Of five home Premier League defeats suffered on his watch, three have come against Liverpool.
Later in his press conference he bemoaned John Brooks’ call not to send off Trent Alexander-Arnold for a second yellow card in the first half but he also conceded that having a man advantage “harmed” Newcastle – and he had a point.
Their evolution from relegation fodder to Champions League pretenders has felt so supremely smooth under Howe, but a double from Darwin Nunez brings with it searching questions for a team that have made no secret about their desire to upbraid English football’s traditional powers.
Were they too passive against 10 men? Did Howe’s changes – made in search of control over the game – cede a second half advantage to Liverpool’s 10 men?
Howe’s management has been so faultless that questions have rarely arrived at his door. But his substitutions – as opposed to Klopp’s game changers – were curious.
Withdrawing the class of Sandro Tonali for the industry of Sean Longstaff seemed to unsettle rhythm. And the departure of Anthony Gordon, a black and white agent provacateur throughout, blunted Newcastle’s attack.
“My role here is to calm everything and see persepctive,” Howe said afterwards. He will need to before Newcastle resume their Premier League programme at Brighton next week. There will be moments of discomfort on Tyneside.
For Liverpool, though, a timely fillip for a side partially rebuilt in the summer and a feather in the cap of Klopp against a Newcastle management duo that he holds in barely concealed antipathy. On the sidelines he implored Jason Tindall, Newcastle’s high-profile No 2, to sit down as the home dug-out called for Alexander-Arnold to go.
After the second of Nunez’s goals he pursed his lips and placed a solitary finger on them. It must have felt like vindication because after threatening to unravel in a first half that bore many of the hallmarks of last season’s frequent collapses, this was a heck of a response from his team.
Much has been made of Liverpool’s off-season midfield reset but it was the canny movement of skilfully summoned late replacements which put the seal on a second half performance of impressive control.
Before then it had been Newcastle’s game to lose as Alexander-Arnold threatened to implode. An early yellow – harshly doled out – for time wasting was followed a few seconds later by a body check on Gordon that should have been a second caution.
Brooks waved away the appeals but Alexander-Arnold then saw his pocket picked by Gordon, outstanding throughout. Van Dijk’s red card was followed by a foul mouthed rant at Brooks that might warrant further sanction.
Newcastle pressed but Liverpool hung on and regrouped at half-time. Klopp showed his team a clip of an attack led by Cody Gakpo which broke through black and white lines and gave them three instructions: one of which was to Alexander-Arnold to keep his head and avoid another booking. Another was simply to “stay in the game”.
For that they had Miguel Almiron’s profligacy and Alisson’s brilliance to thank. Nunez’s two late strikes were superb, breaking the hearts of the hosts.
It was a result of serious heft. “A performance for the ages,” Alexander-Arnold said afterwards and it didn’t feel like he was getting carried away.
How Klopp revelled in it at the end, punching the air towards Liverpool’s massed away support in Level Seven of St James’ Park. Belief and momentum is back.