By Daniel Moxon – @dmoxon_
After two weeks spent scattered across the globe playing for their countries, Liverpool players came back together to make it five wins from five in the Premier League with victory over Newcastle United at Anfield.
There is always a worry that international breaks can disrupt rhythm and form, but there was little evidence of that here as the Reds put a slow start behind them to put Steve Bruce’s Magpies to the sword.
Sadio Mané’s first-half brace put the home side back in front after falling behind early on to a superb strike from Jetro Willems, before Mohamed Salah made sure of the points with less than 20 minutes to go.
A slow start to the game saw both sides tread lightly, with each not willing to give any early opportunities to the other. With Roberto Firmino rested, Divock Origi started on the left with Mané operating in a more central role.
But it was a moment of brilliance that saw the visitors take an unlikely lead after just seven minutes. Willems took advantage of an acre of space on the left to cut onto his weaker right foot and fire a howitzer past the helpless Adrián and into the top corner. A memorable way to mark his first goal in English football – and first at all in two-and-a-half years.
Trent Alexander-Arnold wasn’t marking the Dutch international closely enough. He was caught out again just a few moments later by a cross-field ball, but was this time spared by the offside flag.
Liverpool saw a lot of the ball in the following 15 minutes and switched things up to bring Origi back into the middle. He would have Liverpool’s best chance of the first 25 minutes with a glancing header from Mané’s cross, which fell wide of Martin Dúbravka’s goal.
There was controversy moments later when Joël Matip looked to be hauled down by Jamaal Lascelles in the box. There were furious claims from players and supporters alike, but Andre Marriner was uninterested and VAR was not consulted.
But the Anfield crowd would roar in delight just before the half-hour mark, when Mané – clearly determined to out-do Willems – opened his body up to curl a delicious effort into the top corner at the Kop End. Dúbravka, like Adrián before him, couldn’t get near it and the Reds were level.
Origi had gone down early in the game having tweaked his ankle, and was on the floor again on 35 minutes having clearly failed to shake off the knock. Jürgen Klopp will not have wanted to send on Roberto Firmino so early in the game, but was left with no choice with the Belgian unable to continue.
The Brazilian would punish the Magpies just minutes after coming on. He robbed Christian Atsu in the attacking third and played a through-ball for Mané. Dúbravka came but lost out in a one-on-one situation, leaving the Senegalese with the simple task of tapping home his second of the day.
Liverpool looked to pick up where they left off after the break, and almost had a third straight away when Georginio Wijnaldum’s volley fell onto the roof of the net. Having scored in both of the Netherlands’ matches during the international break, he is clearly in the mood for goals.
Emil Krafth isn’t. A Newcastle break saw Atsu escape the attention of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and put in a great ball for the Swede, but he took an age to get the ball down and fire the ball well over the crossbar when he should have tested Adrián.
Back up the other end, Alexander-Arnold showed once again the threat he carries from out wide with a sumptuous cross met by Firmino, but his header was saved relatively comfortably by the Newcastle goalkeeper.
Andy Robertson was keen to add to his earlier assist with a driving run into the box and an shot on goal. The crowd initially cheered with his effort looking destined for the inside of the net, but Dúbravka saved well from point-blank range to leave the Scot – and everyone else inside Anfield – wondering how he hadn’t scored.
It would be of little consequence, however, as Firmino would flick the ball through beautifully for Mohamed Salah to stroke the ball into the corner and make sure that Liverpool would record yet another home win.
Firmino was on for a hat-trick of assists despite not starting the game, and he almost got it late on with another tremendous piece of skill to set up Alexander-Arnold, but Dúbravka was quick off his line to deny the England international.
Mané thought he had a hat-trick of goals in the dying embers of the game with an easy tap-in after another superb, slick Liverpool move, but Firmino was offside in the build up.
Attentions now turn to the continent, as Klopp’s men begin their defence of the UEFA Champions League trophy with a trip to familiar foes Napoli on Tuesday.