By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
Liverpool kept their Premier League title dream alive in dramatic fashion, securing all three points against Newcastle in an enthralling Saturday night clash at St James’ Park.
Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah and Divock Origi all got on the scoresheet as the Reds put three goals past former manager Rafa Benitez’s side to win 3-2 in the dying minutes of the game.
It came at a cost, however, as their Egyptian top scorer would be stretchered off to applause from all corners of the stadium after suffering a severe-looking head injury after a clash with Martin Dubravka. His participation for the last games of the season is in serious doubt.
Jurgen Klopp made four changes to the side that fell at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night. Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson, Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander-Arnold all returned to the line-up, replacing Naby Keita, James Milner, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez respectively.
The opening minutes of the game saw the visitors pile the pressure on the home side, pressing high and bossing possession of the ball as Klopp’s men looked for an early goal to settle the nerves.
The home side eventually cracked under the Red pressure as Liverpool took the lead in the 13th minute through Virgil van Dijk.
Liverpool’s 14th corner goal of the season was probably their simplest as the towering centre back found himself unmarked in front of goal. Alexander-Arnold took the set piece and sent the ball curling into the centre of the area. van Dijk, who started his run outside the box, managed to evade his marker before climbing calmly and nodding the ball past an infuriated Martin Dubravka in the Newcastle net.
Usually Liverpool would push on after going ahead, however, the home side responded well to going behind, equalising on the 20th minute through Christian Atsu.
A curling cross form Javier Manquillo caused all sorts of confusion for Liverpool’s backline as the ball fell to an unmarked Matt Ritchie at the back post. The winger pulled his shot wide only to see it fall to Salomon Rondon who directed the ball goal bound. The Ecuadorian striker saw his shot cleared off the line by Alexander-Arnold, but the ball fell to Atsu in front of goal who dispatched expertly into the back of the net.
Despite going behind, Liverpool might count themselves lucky that referee Andre Marriner played advantage as Alexander-Arnold appeared to purposely block Rondon’s attempt with his elbow. Had the referee blown for a penalty, then the rules of the game would have required the young full-back to be shown a red card.
After pulling level, Newcastle increased the pressure on the visitors and almost took the lead through Ayoze Perez. The Spaniard gathered a loose ball before driving into the Liverpool penalty area and unleashing a venomous volley which cannoned off Alisson’s crossbar.
Newcastle were made to rue this missed chance as moments later, and somewhat against the run of play, Liverpool pulled ahead again.
If they weren’t thankful for the referee playing advantage during the Newcastle goal, then the visitors certainly were after Alexander-Arnold, who would have been sent off, provided his second assist of the game.
A brilliant backheel by Sturridge saw the ball fall to the wingback who whipped in a first time cross towards Salah. The Egyptian, who again was unmarked in the centre of the Newcastle penalty area, swivelled before directing the ball into the far corner of the Newcastle net with a first-time stroke of his right boot.
The strike sees Salah register his 22nd Premier League goal of the campaign, putting him two goals clear at the top of the top goal-scoring charts.
After going ahead for the second time, Liverpool continued to dominate possession as they went in search of a third goal. With this being said, it wasn’t all one-way traffic. Despite their limited time on the ball, the home side continued to carve out chances and tested Alisson on more than one occasion.
Unfortunately for Newcastle, Liverpool’s Brazilian stopper was more than a match for their attempts, and the Reds went into the halftime break 2-1 up. As the second half commenced, both teams had opportunities to hit the back of the net within the opening five minutes.
A well-worked Newcastle move saw Rondon test Alisson down to his right-hand side, whereas good link up play through Liverpool’s left flank saw the ball fall to Sturridge who could only smash the ball over the bar.
Newcastle continued to push on and eventually Rondon got his goal. A poorly dealt with corner was headed back into the mix by Manquillo and the ball fell to the Equadorian. Without time to take a touch, the Newcastle striker was forced to take the shot first-time, but this was no issue.
A powerful swing of his left leg saw the ball arrow into the corner of Alisson’s net leaving the goalkeeper no chance of saving. St James’s park erupted as Rondon celebrated his 10th goal of the campaign.
After going ahead, the home side grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and looked the more likely side to take the lead with Rondon and Perez in particular looking dangerous.
It went from bad to worse for Liverpool as Salah was forced off the pitch on a stretcher. The Egyptian climbed for an aerial ball and was on the receiving end of a heavy blow to the head by Dubravka. Salah remained on the floor for an extended period of time where he received medical treatment before being stretchered off in tears by the paramedics at the ground. Divock Origi was brought on to replace the star man.
Liverpool fans will be hoping that their top goal-scorer can recover quickly, but it’s highly unlikely that he will be available for selection again this season. Whether it be the injury to Salah or the nerves of a title race, as the clock wound down Liverpool struggled to keep possession, let alone carve out any chances at Dubravka’s goal.
With the game seeming to run away from Liverpool, Klopp introduced James Milner to try and calm things down for the Reds. The experience certainly helped, as Liverpool began to cause danger again in the closing minutes. Having just been brought in for their stricken star man, Origi took his opportunity and headed in the winner in the 86th minute.
A free-kick won on the edge of the area was floated in by fellow substitute Xherdan Shaqiri. The Belgian striker climbed high with Jamaal Lascelles and beat the centre back to nod the ball past Dubravka and into the net to send Liverpool fans ecstatic.
The result sees Liverpool head back to the top of the Premier League – at least until Monday when Manchester City face Leicester.
Liverpool’s next game is on Tuesday night when they face the challenging task of overturning a 3-0 scoreline against Barcelona at Anfield. The question on everyone’s mind is will they be missing their Egyptian King?