Darwin Núñez’s late double steals win for 10-man Liverpool to stun Newcastle | Premier League

new balance

Shortly before the last World Cup Gareth Southgate had the humility to admit that his in-game management still contained scope for improvement. The England coach’s sole problem is that his side simply do not play sufficient games to allow him to make the sort of mid-match substitutions and tactical switches that set managers such as Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp apart from the crowd.

No matter; at least Southgate was at St James’ Park to study a Klopp masterclass in overcoming adversity to win against all odds. After his side were swiftly reduced to 10 men as a result of Virgil van Dijk’s early sending-off and fell behind to Anthony Gordon’s fine opener, Klopp used his substitutes brilliantly and was rewarded by two late gamechanging goals from Darwin Núñez.

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The duel involving Newcastle’s Gordon and Liverpool’s sometimes inverted right-back, Trent Alexander-Arnold always promised to prove an intriguing subplot but few onlookers can have expected it to provoke match-changing controversy quite so quickly. After only five minutes Alexander-Arnold received a yellow card for flicking the ball away in frustration after being unceremoniously shoved into the technical area by Gordon. It seemed harsh, pedantic even, but under the latest law edicts, the referee, John Brooks, had little option but to issue the booking.

A minute later, a seething Alexander-Arnold blocked Gordon’s path by flinging out an arm, catching the left winger with a stray elbow. It seemed worthy of another yellow card but, resisting considerable pressure from Howe and Newcastle’s captain, Kieran Trippier, Brooks resisted, instead settling for giving the miscreant a gentle talking to.

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Given that Alexander-Arnold was not merely flitting between full-back and midfield but sometimes dropping into central defence in order to offer Joël Matip scope to advance, Klopp looked suitably relieved. It would prove a strictly temporary emotion.

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Nick Pope subsequently extended a capable hand to divert Luis Díaz’s angled shot in the wake of Dominic Szoboszlai’s deft pass. Considering that his England manager, Southgate, was sitting in the main stand it must have felt a reassuring moment for a goalkeeper with an unfortunate habit of making uncharacteristic errors when Southgate visits St James’ Park.

This though was an afternoon illuminated by some newly nifty footwork on Pope’s part amid a litany of Liverpool mistakes and Alexander-Arnold soon made a bad one after apparently losing concentration. In permitting Mo Salah’s admittedly awkward pass to squirm beneath his studs the full-back allowed Gordon to steal in, seize possession and show some impressive acceleration before sending a low shot whizzing under Alisson into the net.

High on adrenaline and exhibiting the sort of change of pace that suggested he might have hired Usain Bolt as a sprint coach, Gordon was simply irrepressible. As a former Evertonian the England Under-21s winger appeared to be enjoying running Alexander-Arnold and the increasingly ruffled Matip ragged in front of Southgate.

If Alexander-Arnold was enduring an afternoon to forget, things were about to turn positively calamitous for Virgil van Dijk. When Gordon – who else – slipped a ball through to Alexander Isak, the Sweden forward had a clear sight of goal only to be sent crashing by Van Dijk’s scything challenge, potentially denying a clearcut goalscoring opportunity, just outside the area.

Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk reacts after he is shown a red card by referee John Brooks
Virgil van Dijk remonstrates with the referee, John Brooks, after being shown a red card in the first half. Photograph: Lee Smith/Action Images/Reuters

Although a VAR review vindicated Brook’s decision to issue a straight red card, neither the centre-half nor Klopp took that call too well but things could have deteriorated even further for Liverpool had Alisson not performed acrobatic wonders to somehow keep out Miguel Almirón’s goal-bound volley. It is not yet September but, when it comes to compiling a video compendium of saves of the season, it will be a surprise if it is not included.

Klopp had responded to his side’s reduction to 10 men by sacrificing Díaz in order to introduce Joe Gomez’s defensive qualities. Gomez’s duties included offering Liverpool’s revamped midfield a little more protection.

Although Szoboszlai looked very good at times, Alexis Mac Allister and Wataru Endo, making his first start, struggled for touches and made minimal impact.

It left Newcastle’s Sandro Tonali, ably assisted by Bruno Guimarães and Joelinton to pull the midfield strings and create a framework in which Gordon’s stream of menacing crosses repeatedly unhinged Klopp’s backline.

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Whether or not Salah wants to leave Liverpool for Saudi Arabia remains a matter of conjecture but, whatever his innermost feelings, the Egypt striker offered Liverpool fans a glimmer of hope courtesy of the odd menacing attacking cameo. That Salah rarely broke through was less about him and more about the excellence with which Fabian Schär and Sven Botman dealt with the £100m valued forward’s clever movement.

Liverpool’s Darwin Núñez scores their first goal at Newcastle
Darwin Núñez scores Liverpool’s first goal as the match is turned on its head in the closing stages. Photograph: Scott Heppell/Reuters

Indeed a visiting side that improved almost beyond recognition after Klopp replaced Endo and Cody Gakpo with Harvey Elliott and Diogo Jota were denied a near certain goal by Botman’s fabulous 11th-hour sliding block on Salah.

Although Almirón’s swerving left-foot shot, rebounded off the base of a post, Newcastle fans sensed an alteration in the power balance.

It was confirmed when Salah and Jota combined to highly intelligent effect and, for once, Botman got his feet in a tangle and failed to subdue the latter’s pass. It permitted another substitute, Núñez – newly on for Mac Allister – to silence most of St James’ Park.

Having pounced on the ball, Núñez advanced, seamlessly, to destroy Pope’s hitherto fine afternoon by directing a fabulous low drive into the bottom corner.

This was supposed to be the moment when Howe secured Newcastle’s first Premier League victory against Liverpool since 2015 and, in so doing, gained the upper hand in his rivalry with Klopp, but instead Newcastle’s manger looked flabbergasted.

He looked positively sick when Núñez enjoyed the last word, collecting Salah’s superlative pass and, once again, beating Pope thanks to another glorious finish.

new balance

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