NEWCASTLE: Liverpool squandered the chance to open up a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League in the final English top-flight match of 2020 after being held to a goalless draw by Newcastle on Wednesday. The 0-0 stalemate at St James’ Park means the champions go into the New Year with a three-point lead over Manchester United, having played a game more. But they will rue their missed chances in a match in which they enjoyed nearly three-quarters of possession.
Mohamed Salah — top of the Premier League goalscoring charts with 13 goals – missed the target either side of half-time with just goalkeeper Karl Darlow to beat and strike-partner Roberto Firmino saw two headers superbly saved. Three days after lowly West Brom snatched a point at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp’s men, who have now won only two of their eight league away games this season, were frustrated once again, although it took a late goal-line clearance from Fabian Schar and Darlow’s brilliance to keep them at bay.
Klopp rued his side’s profligacy in front of goal. “You might not think I have to tip my hat to my team but I like the performance,” he told the BBC. “It was really good. Can we play better football? Yes, but in this game we did more than enough to win it. “I think we had four 100 percent chances. We have won against Newcastle before with fewer chances. Tonight we didn’t but we accept that. I am happy with the things I saw tonight and I can really work with that.
“The boys are frustrated and rightly so but not about the performance. It is a basis to build on for the next few days, weeks, months.” Newcastle, who came into the match without a win in four games in all competitions, started positively, with returning striker Callum Wilson almost catching goalkeeper Alisson Becker unaware with a speculative early shot. The Reds needed Alisson to be at his best to deny Wilson once again 10 minutes later after he had outpaced defender Nathaniel Phillips.
Liverpool should have been ahead 11 minutes before the break when Salah beat the offside trap to control the ball in front of the advancing Darlow, only to stab his shot wide of the post, and the keeper produced a fine reaction save in stoppage time to repel Firmino’s header from point-blank range.
Mane headed into the side-netting from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s 49th-minute corner and when Liverpool turned the screw, with Mane going through his full repertoire of tricks, the Magpies’ rearguard came under increasing pressure. Salah had another chance to break the deadlock midway through the second half when he was played in by Firmino but, after steadying himself, directed his effort past the upright. Firmino was equally wasteful when presented with a glorious chance at the far post as Newcastle rode their luck.
It nearly got much better for the Magpies 11 minutes from time when Ciaran Clark met Matt Ritchie’s free-kick with a downward header that Alisson had to turn away. But Schar hacked the ball off his own line ahead of Mane seconds later and Darlow brilliantly clawed away another Firmino header at the death to preserve his clean sheet. Klopp’s men finish the calendar year on 33 points from 16 games, three clear of United, who have 30 points after 15 matches. The two teams, with a combined 39 English titles between them, meet on January 17 at Anfield. – AFP