It was little surprise that Liverpool defeated Newcastle United on Sunday. The manner in which the Reds topped the Magpies wasn’t so shocking, either.
The Premier League’s second-placed team — one with championship ambitions — was hosting a slumping, mid-level opponent that had little to play for. Yet, for an hour, it looked like Liverpool’s breakout season was destined to end with a whimper.
Trailing after Martin Skrtel’s first-half own goal, the Reds were struggling to break down Newcastle’s defense when Steven Gerrard lined up a free kick in the 63rd minute. The Liverpool captain delivered an inch-perfect free kick to the far post, where only the lunging Daniel Agger could sweep it into the goal.
Less than two minutes later, Gerrard did it again. This time, Daniel Sturridge tapped it in from nearly the exact same spot.
Gerrard didn’t send two dead balls to the most dangerous place on the field (in those situations) by accident. Gerrard forged those moments of supreme quality in years of practice and competitive games. Goal scorers Agger and Sturridge also were no bystanders, either, as they had to arrive at the spot, stay composed and convert the opportunities Gerrard created.
The Reds didn’t play particularly well before or after they scored in quick succession, but Newcastle lacked both the quality and spirit to overcome Liverpool’s newly acquired advantage. Shola Ameobi was dismissed after Sturridge’s goal, reducing the chances of that comeback scenario from “unlikely” to “not going to happen.”
The Reds broke the 100-goal barrier this Premier League season (101 to be exact), something they had done only once in their history — back in 1895-96, when they scored 106. The tally itself is evidence of the Reds’ elite-level attack, and they exploited their gulf in class to top Newcastle despite not being at their best Sunday.
Good teams can, and often do, win under these circumstances due to quality and self-belief. Liverpool falls into this category.
But Liverpool’s sluggishness and defensive frailty in the first hour shows that the team remains a work in progress. The Reds lacked the hunger to apply suffocating pressure onto their opponents and the sharpness to carve them open, as they did on so many occasions in 2013-14.
The occasional drop in form on any given weekend also happens to good teams.
But Liverpool isn’t content with being good. Manager Brendan Rodgers wants to build a great team — one worthy of Liverpool’s rich history and capable of winning major competitions.
The hallmark of all great teams is consistency of both results and performances. Liverpool was remarkably consistent for much of the season, and its second-place finish proves the effectiveness of Rodgers’ approach and methods.
Liverpool might have been celebrating a Premier League title had chefs added two extra drops of consistency into the mix. That could come naturally with another year of seasoning.
Liverpool now can and will beat most teams, whether by outclassing or outgrinding them. Rodgers’ next step is the hardest one: reducing the amount and duration of those occasional dips. The closer Liverpool comes to bringing these down to zero, the higher their chances of achieving success will be.
Photo via LiverpoolFC.com