Liverpool’s pursuit of a top-four Premier League finish gathered further momentum at the expense of Newcastle United’s similar ambitions with a crucial win at St James’ Park.
Jurgen Klopp’s side, who secured their first league win of 2023 in the Merseyside derby against Everton on Monday, took control with two early goals from Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo.
Newcastle’s miserable night worsened with a first-half red card for goalkeeper Nick Pope, ruling him out of next Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester United at Wembley.
Nunez powered home the opener from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s pass after 10 minutes, then Gakpo scored for the second successive match seven minutes later, pouncing on Mohamed Salah’s piece of creation to beat Pope.
The Newcastle keeper then left referee Anthony Taylor with no option but to send him off after 22 minutes when he misjudged a dash from goal in an attempt to challenge Salah. He slipped and had to handle to stop Liverpool’s Egypt forward from racing clear.
Ironically, Pope’s replacement Martin Dubravka is cup-tied for Wembley having played for Manchester United in an earlier round, leaving former Liverpool keeper Loris Karius as the most likely contender to face Erik ten Hag’s side.
Newcastle were unable to overcome the handicap as they went down to only their second league defeat this season, the first also coming against Liverpool at Anfield in August.
It capped a disappointing build-up to Newcastle’s first Wembley final since the FA Cup in 1999, but they still showed plenty of spirit despite their numerical disadvantage, Liverpool keeper Alisson turning Allan Saint-Maximin’s shot on to the bar, while Dan Burn also rattled the woodwork with a header. The Brazilian also saved well from Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson.
Klopp will have left Tyneside highly satisfied after desperate away defeats at Brentford, Brighton and Wolverhampton Wanderers as Liverpool now stand only six points behind fourth-placed Newcastle with a game in hand.
Liverpool increase pressure
Liverpool showed signs of recovering their old menace in the comfortable 2-0 win against Everton in the Merseyside derby.
The trick was to follow that up against what has been a formidable Newcastle side this season given the inconsistency that has dogged the Reds’ campaign.
This is why Klopp will be elated with the outcome, not simply because it means Newcastle will feel the threat of Liverpool moving closer to the top-four place the Toon Army also have their eyes on.
This was far from the perfect Liverpool performance, relying too heavily on the outstanding Alisson as their defence was opened up too often for Klopp’s liking before Tuesday’s last-16 Champions League meeting with holders Real Madrid at Anfield.
There was, however, so much to be positive about as Nunez turned his good work into a goal with a thumping finish and the improving Gakpo was on the mark again, although Liverpool might be disappointed they did not add to their goal tally.
Diogo Jota also delivered a dangerous cameo as he moves close to full fitness after a long injury absence, while fit-again Virgil van Dijk comfortably came through his first 90 minutes since sustaining a hamstring injury.
This has been a very good week for Liverpool after so many disappointments this season, with successive victories providing the perfect tonic before the meeting with the side that beat them in last season’s Champions League final.
Newcastle thoughts turn to Wembley
Newcastle’s fans swallowed their disappointment at the final whistle by instantly switching attention to their big Wembley date with Manchester United.
Even that was overshadowed by the red card that rules out keeper Pope, such an influential figure in their transformation under Eddie Howe this season. Make no mistake, this is a bitter blow to their hopes of winning the first silverware since the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969.
And the added worry for Howe is that Newcastle, so impressive in this campaign, have hit a dry spell at the most crucial point in their season so far, their last league win coming against Fulham in mid-January.
Newcastle will be lifted by the return of Bruno Guimaraes at Wembley, but there was also plenty for the home fans to be encouraged by, despite the result.
Their side never gave up despite facing a virtually impossible task at 2-0 down and reduced to ten men, playing with character and creating chances throughout – although again there was a lack of end product.
It was an anti-climax given the high hopes before kick-off, but Newcastle can now fix full focus on their biggest game in years and the chance to end that 54-year trophy drought.