Naby Keïta downs Newcastle as Liverpool up tempo in title race | Premier League

It is not so long ago that Jürgen Klopp allowed Eddie Howe access all areas at Anfield as he permitted an out of work colleague to shadow virtually his every move but, as kick off approached, Liverpool’s manager possibly regretted such generosity.

Klopp had perhaps not bargained for Howe poaching one of his key analysts, Mark Leyland, almost as soon as he took charge of Newcastle – or breathing so much new life into Steve Bruce’s old side that they represented an unexpected threat to Liverpool’s quadruple chances.

In the event it was tight, but not quite as close as the scoreline might suggest. Although a heavily, yet cleverly, rotated Liverpool XI, with Mo Salah and Thiago Alcântara on the bench, were made to work hard for a precious victory sealed by a 19th-minute winner from the impressive Naby Keïta, Alisson had precious little to do in the visiting goal. Klopp’s selection gamble had paid dividends.

With Trent Alexander-Arnold another unused substitute, Liverpool’s manager showed off his squad’s extraordinary strength in depth as, despite making five changes from the side that began the Champions League semi-final first-leg win against Villarreal, he reinforced his team’s title chances.

Moreover, as the pressure was maintained on Manchester City at the top of the Premier League and Newcastle’s record-equaling run of six home victories ground to a halt, the suspicion grew that James Milner has discovered the secret of eternal footballing life.

Twenty years after making his debut for Leeds as a 16-year-old, the midfielder seems indestructible and, making a rare league start, showed no sign of flagging. As Milner prepares to collect further silverware this spring the words of his former Newcastle manager, Graeme Souness, once again rang hollow. “You’ll never win anything with a team of James Milners,” he had once sneered.

Newcastle’s Joelinton and Liverpool’s Diogo Jota clash during a tightly contested first half. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Just one was sufficient to create Keïta’s winning goal. That preamble involved Milner emerging from a 50/50 challenge with Fabian Schär unscathed and with the ball. In contrast, the collision left the centre-half on the turf for several minutes.

Keïta, normally far from a guaranteed Liverpool starter, then dribbled his way around Martin Dubravka before shooting through a hastily constructed, distinctly ersatz, wall of defenders.

As Klopp jubilantly punched thin air, Howe looked unimpressed. Along with the majority of the 52,000-plus crowd, he appeared concerned Andre Marriner had been wrong to wave play on in the wake of Milner’s tackle. With a VAR review deciding otherwise, the goal stood and Schär limped back into action.

Although Miguel Almirón thought he had equalized after rounding Alisson, the Paraguayan forward’s effort was rightly chalked off for offside. With Almirón and Allan Saint-Maximin failing to make the desired counter-attacking impact against Virgil van Dijk and company and even Bruno Guimarães for once failing to conjure his hallmark killer though balls, Liverpool had, by then, assumed control, enjoying more than 70 % of ownership.

Jordan Henderson was heavily involved in this monopolization of the ball, with the former Sunderland midfielder evidently inspired by the booing that greeted his every touch. Not content with upstaging Jonjo Shelvey, Henderson very nearly created a goal for Diogo Jota before half time courtesy of a fine cross that prefaced Dubravka performing wonders to somehow tip Jota’s flicked, high-velocity header to safety.

In the second half Sadio Mané feels a shot whizzing narrowly, and wastefully, wide after meeting Joe Gomez’s superb right-sided delivery. It proved the cue for Howe to replace Joe Willock, reduced to a disappointingly peripheral figure by Keïta, with Chris Wood and, shortly afterwards, Klopp to bring on Salah.

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Salah’s wonderful first touch created a glorious opening for Luis Díaz that, but for a brilliant interception from Newcastle’s underrated left-back Matt Targett, would surely have produced a goal. He soon had Dan Burn looking unusually edgy, though he was not quite as fazed as Klopp momentarily appeared when Saint-Maximin briefly flickered into life. The Frenchman played in Wood only for the New Zealander to shoot straight at Alisson. It initially seemed a very big miss so it was probably just as well for Wood that a linesman’s offside flag rendered it academic.

An equalizer always looked unlikely. Indeed, with the overworked Dubravka, who excelled in keeping Jota’s late shot out, and Targett by far Newcastle’s best performers, Manchester City were left with manifold reasons to be distinctly nervous.

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