Liverpool moved top of the Premier League table and continued their chase for a historic quadruple with a narrow 1-0 win over Newcastle at St James’ Park.
Three days on from their 2-0 victory over Villarreal in the Champions League semi-final first leg, the Reds moved two points clear of Manchester City, who face Leeds live on Sky Sports later on Saturday, courtesy of Naby Keita’s first-half strike (19).
Newcastle felt aggrieved by the goal, feeling James Milner should have been penalised for a foul on Fabian Schar in the build-up, but replays showed he won the ball fairly and Keita capitalised with a composed finish after exchanging passes with Diogo Jota.
If VAR doesn’t intervene, I assume we have nothing to complain about. We were obviously disappointed. In the heart of defence we were light on bodies.
Liverpool fielded a much-changed team as Jurgen Klopp rested Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara but still succeeded in dominating possession and limiting the hosts to few chances.
They were unable to extend their lead, however, with Sadio Mane going closest when he fired narrowly wide in the second half and Jota, Luis Diaz and substitute Salah also spurning chances.
Newcastle occasionally threatened an equaliser on the break, ensuring a nervy finale for the visitors, but Klopp’s men held on to make it three consecutive wins in the Premier League and keep the pressure on City as a thrilling title race continues.
Newcastle: Dubravka (8), Krafth (7), Schar (6), Burn (7), Targett (7), Guimaraes (7), Shelvey (6), Saint-Maximin (6), Willock (6), Almiron (6), Joelinton (6).
Subs: (n/a)Lascelles (6), Wood (6), Murphy (5).
Liverpool: Alisson (7), Gomez (7), Matip (7), Van Dijk (7), Robertson (7), Keita (8), Henderson (7), Milner (7), Jota (8), Mane (6), Diaz (7).
Subs: Salah (6), Fabinho (6), Thiago (6).
Man of the match: Naby Keita.
How Liverpool edged to victory
Newcastle made an aggressive start as they sought to extend a run of six consecutive wins at St James’ Park, putting Liverpool under pressure high up the pitch, but the visitors soon settled.
Keita sent a deflected effort narrowly wide and there were also early half-chances for Jota and Virgil van Dijk, who sent first-time shots high and wide from inside the Newcastle box.
- Fabian Schar, Jonjo Shelvey and Miguel Almiron returned to Newcastle’s starting line-up having dropped out against Norwich last time out.
- Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara were rested for Liverpool as Jurgen Klopp rotated his side.
The opener came soon afterwards and it arrived in controversial circumstances, with Newcastle calling for a foul after Milner won possession from Schar in the build-up, although replays showed referee Andre Marriner was correct to allow play to continue.
From there, Liverpool worked the ball out to Keita, who played a smart one-two with Jota and kept his composure to cut inside from the left and round Martin Dubravka before slotting home his first goal since October.
Newcastle could muster little in response in the first half but thought they had levelled when Miguel Almiron rounded Alisson Becker and fired home, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside.
But Liverpool continued to dominate, with the busy Dubravka denying Mane from a Luis Diaz cut-back, then pushing a Jota header over the bar from Henderson’s right-wing cross.
The second half continued in much the same vein, with Andrew Robertson causing an angry reaction from Klopp on the touchline when he opted to shoot with Dubraka off his line when others were better placed to score.
Mane then fired a guilt-edged chance narrowly wide from a Joe Gomez cut-back and there were further missed opportunities from Salah, who had to settle for a 21-minute cameo, and the lively Diaz, who fired into the side netting.
Newcastle had occasional openings at the other end, with Allain Saint-Maximin proving a dangerous outlet for the hosts, but the Frenchman’s decision-making let him down at key moments.
Bruno Guimaraes did succeed in testing Alisson in the Liverpool goal, but the Brazilian saved his countryman’s long-range effort comfortably as the Reds, who have already lifted the Carabao Cup this season and face Chelsea in the FA Cup final, continued their efforts to win an unprecedented quadruple.
Analysis: Keita showing his value to Liverpool
Naby Keita had not scored for Liverpool since October but he chose a good moment to pop up with a goal and it was beautifully taken too, the 27-year-old dribbling inside from the right then keeping his cool to beat Martin Dubravka and find the net.
It proved a decisive contribution but it was not all he offered.
Keita’s eye-catching all-round display made him the game’s stand-out performer. As well as scoring the winner and playing a part in many of Liverpool’s best attacking moments, he won possession more times (nine) than anyone else.
His off-the-ball industry on the right of Liverpool’s midfield ensured Joe Gomez was rarely exposed behind him and he also played a key role in their pressing game, snapping at the heels of Newcastle players on the rare occasions they attempted to construct attacks.
Keita’s time at Anfield has been up and down, the Guinea international at times struggling to hold down a place in the side following his arrival from RB Leipzig in 2018.
But this was just the latest in a run of impressive displays. In the FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City, he was arguably the best player on the pitch. It was a similar story in the Champions League quarter-final first leg against Benfica.
His energy and intensity is proving invaluable for Liverpool as the season enters a crunch period. He will become even more important if he can produce another goal or two between now and the end of the campaign.
Liverpool’s fixture schedule:
May 3 – Villarreal (a) Champions League SF second leg
May 7 – Tottenham (h) Premier League
May 10 – Aston Villa (a) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
May 14 – Chelsea (Wembley) FA Cup final
May 17 – Southampton (a) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
May 22 – Wolves (h) Premier League
May 28 – Champions League final *
*Subject to progress
Milner: We’ve got to keep this mindset going
Liverpool midfielder James Milner:
“I think we controlled it well in spells, but you’re not going to be able to do that all game. They’re on fire at the moment so we knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“It was nice to be in the lead, but one goal’s never enough in this league. In a few situations we could have done better, but at this time of the season it’s all about getting that win and moving on.
“The position we’re in, challenging on all fronts, it proves you need a good squad. Everybody’s needed. We’ve just got to keep that mindset going and, in three days, go again.”
What the managers said…
Newcastle boss Eddie Howe: “I don’t think we quite got going. I thought we made a bright start to the game but we’re slightly disappointed with our own performance.
“Individually I don’t think we hit our top levels, which meant collectively we didn’t quite hit the levels we have recently. We probably didn’t quite have that sustained pressure we were looking for. The second half was better without that big chance ever really coming.
“There were one or two bright sparks, but it’s slightly disappointing compared to our previous levels. I’ve seen progress from where we have been, but on the other side there’s a lot of work to do.”
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp: “I thought it was a top-class game in extremely difficult circumstances. Playing this kind of football.
“That’s why I’m really happy. You want to win football games and in the best case you deserve to win, and we did today 100% against a team in great form in a great atmosphere.”
On making five changes for the game: “I don’t think about the next game, but I know you cannot ignore that. My job is to use the squad when they are available and that’s what we do. Today we thought it was the right thing today because we needed legs in this game.”
Liverpool will look to secure their place in the Champions League final as they play Villareal on Tuesday in the semi-final second leg.
Newcastle have a tough task ahead as they face current Premier League champions Manchester City next Sunday. The game will be live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm; Kick off 4:30pm.