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Should Liverpool be worried? Reds' memorable 2020 ends with a whimper

22:17 GMT 30/12/2020
Salah Klopp Milner Liverpool GFX
The Reds dropped points for the second game in a row as Jurgen Klopp's side failed to find a way past a dogged Newcastle side

And so a slog of a year ends with a slog of a performance.

If 2020 has undoubtedly been Liverpool’s, they are finishing it in wasteful fashion.

The Reds could have taken full control of the title race this week, but instead they have squandered four points in as many days. Newcastle, like West Brom before them, were able to frustrate the champions, who were held to their first goalless draw of the campaign at St James’ Park.

They remain top of the Premier League, three points clear of Manchester United. Their great rivals, though, boast a game in hand, and will, like others, fancy their chances of mounting a challenge in the New Year.  

They will certainly take encouragement from what they have seen from Liverpool of late. Since dismantling Crystal Palace 7-0 on December 19, Jurgen Klopp’s side have looked anything but convincing.

Slack against West Brom, sloppy against Newcastle. They should have won both but won neither.

In fact, they have won just twice away from home in the league all season. Fans have become accustomed to seeing them grind out victories when below their best, but things have changed this season. Their form on their travels is becoming something of a concern.

They should have won this one, to be fair. That they did not was down to a combination of poor finishing and fantastic goalkeeping, with Karl Darlow making a string of remarkable saves to earn Newcastle their point.

Mind you, had it not been for Alisson Becker at the other end, the Magpies may have snatched an unlikely win late on themselves.

Darlow, though, was the star, repelling Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino in fine fashion during a lacklustre first half.

After the break, Salah spurned another glorious chance while Fabian Schar somehow denied Sadio Mane on the goalline, before Darlow produced another top stop, keeping out Firmino’s late header as Liverpool piled on the pressure.

Frustration then, for Klopp, though there was the welcome sight of Thiago Alcantara making his first appearance in two months, and just his third for the club.

The Spain international certainly injected quality after replacing the tireless James Milner – one pass out to Trent Alexander-Arnold in the build-up to Mane’s chance stood out a mile – but even his probing could not help Liverpool fashion a winning goal.

Cause for concern? Perhaps, especially with a trip to Southampton next up. After that it’s an FA Cup date with Aston Villa that one senses Klopp could do without, and then it’s Manchester United at Anfield. How Liverpool would like to quieten that particular noise. 

Klopp will be encouraged by the fact that players are returning. Thiago, Milner and Xherdan Shaqiri all featured here for the first time in weeks, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was among the substitutes once more.

But there remain concerns at centre-back, where Nat Phillips was preferred to teenager Rhys Williams. Klopp confirmed post-match that Joel Matip faces three weeks out with his groin injury, adding huge pressure to the brilliant Fabinho, whose class and versatility has dug the Reds out of a significant hole this season. 

Klopp was still, in fairness, smiling after this one. "I can work with this performance," he told his post-match press conference.

Only at the end of the season will we know whether this was a point gained or two dropped. It felt like the latter tonight, though. Just as it did on Sunday.

Happy New Year? Maybe for Newcastle. They will celebrate this point like a victory. 

Liverpool, though, will head home with regrets. If they want to retain their title, they will need to improve on the road in 2021, that's for sure.