Jurgen Klopp said pre-match that Liverpool were less predictable since Philippe Coutinho’s departure. That is not to sling mud at the Brazilian who departed for Barcelona in the January transfer window but more to reflect the fact that without one dominant playmaker opponents simply don’t know where the danger is going to come from.
Klopp’s gamble in sanctioning Coutinho’s record transfer is paying off. Safely delivered through to the Champions League quarter finals – barring a cataclysmic collapse - and now second to only Manchester City in the Premier League, the manager can currently reflect on a pretty canny piece of business. All that and RB Leipzig dynamo Naby Keita to look forward to in the summer.
It would be remiss to say Coutinho was holding Liverpool back or causing them a problem but there is better balance in the team since Klopp has been given the option to play with a more pragmatic midfield three.
Without the schemer occupying a place in the team ahead of him, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is beginning to carve out a niche instead of the Reds having one attacker too many. His work in providing Mo Salah with the opening goal against Newcastle was excellent.
Salah, now safely assured of his status as signing of the season, needs no second invitation in situations like that. He has now scored in 26 separate club games for Liverpool this season – an English and top-five European league record.
While Klopp was commenting on the effect on the side since Coutinho’s exit, he mentioned the form of Roberto Firmino. He may never be a bonafide poacher like Sergio Aguero but that is not what Liverpool are looking for.
He fits this set-up like a glove, whether it’s leading the line or dropping in to create the play. He gave Sadio Mane the opportunity to shoot at goal for Liverpool’s second, game-killing strike.
Newcastle provided exactly what was expected on one of the coldest nights to see a game this season. Rafael Benitez had his team sit deep and resist. It worked until just before half-time and a side of such limited ambition is always going to struggle to get back into a game after falling behind.
These types of games have had the habit of biting Klopp on the backside throughout his Liverpool reign. This time, though, there were no mistakes and Liverpool took care of business efficiently.
That Mane goal was the 200th Premier League goal of Klopp’s Liverpool reign. They have come in 97 matches. Scoring has never been a problem, rather it’s been keeping them out at the other end.
The signing of Virgil van Dijk should help in that regard and, while they lost a superstar in Coutinho, they appear to have gained a bit more balance.