IT IS a fixture that has produced some of the Premier League’s classic contests, but for Liverpool their latest date with Newcastle will count only as another missed opportunity.
Monday morning reports of yet more Anfield frustration for Brendan Rodgers and his side will sound wearingly familiar. With good reason, too. Copy and paste merchants could make a killing covering Liverpool’s home fixtures at the moment. The opponents may change, the story never does, at the moment.
First, the facts. This was two points dropped for Rodgers’ men. Two more points. With a trip to Stamford Bridge to come next week, and then a decent run of friendlier-looking fixtures to follow, this was a chance for Liverpool to add some momentum to a season that has spluttered through the Autumn.
But, in keeping with the general theme here, they couldn’t make the most of the opportunity.
The statistics were all too familiar. There was possession (64%), plenty of efforts on goal (19) and bags of corners (14). Liverpool spent the bulk of the match on the front foot, their visitors happy to sit deep and play on the counter attack.
But statistics can tell you anything. They can tell you that Liverpool have taken just 11 points from 10 Premier League matches this season, drawing half of their fixtures. They can tell you that nobody other than Luis Suarez has managed more than one league goal for the Reds all season long.
Or that it is now 14 months since back to back league wins were recorded on home soil. Fourteen months. Fortress Anfield needs rebuilding, and fast.
It took a moment of genius from Luis Suarez to rescue even a point here, after Newcastle had, predictably, taken the lead with their first shot on target through Yohan Cabaye in the 43rd minute.
Liverpool, it is fair to say, had been much the better side up until that point. But their dominance was sterile.
They looked dangerous when Suarez and Raheem Sterling linked up on the left hand side, particularly in the early stages, but rarely was their threat sustained.
With neither Joe Allen, Nuri Sahin nor Steven Gerrard enjoying particularly distinguished first halves, Rodgers’ side lacked thrust and drive from midfield. Newcastle, though poor in possession, were able to ride out the initial storm, and then strike on the break when the moment came.
That, of course, is a theme that has gone past the label of ‘recurring’.
Alan Pardew admitted afterwards that had his side been able to ‘wrap up’ Suarez, they would surely have won the game. “I don’t think they were causing us any other problems apart from his,” he said.
It is hard to argue otherwise. The Uruguayan was magnificent at times – ‘unplayable’ said Rodgers – but his was a lone threat. The majesty of his goal, however, illuminated a gloomy afternoon better than any of the fireworks exploding overhead. It was a thing of beauty, in a game which in truth barely deserved it.
He now has seven of Liverpool’s 13 league goals this season. Without him, where would they be? Rodgers would be well-advised to gag his star man over the coming weeks; he is one yellow card away from a suspension his club can barely afford.
There is nothing inherently wrong with having a talisman, incidentally. One could easily aim the same ‘where would they be?’ question towards Barcelona and Lionel Messi, or Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo, for example. Every great side has its best player.
The problem is, Liverpool’s reliance on Suarez is, at the moment at least, approaching total. They haven’t had the players to turn draws into wins for the best part of two seasons, but they should be thankful they have Suarez to save draws from defeats, else the league table would make for even grimmer reading.
The developing Raheem Sterling, who missed as good a chance as any to clinch all three points here, has the potential to be a genuine force for years to come, but both he and Suso need the space, the freedom, to make mistakes as they learn.
They cannot be expected, at 17 and 18 respectively, to do the job of seasoned professionals, and lift the goalscoring burden from Suarez’s shoulders. The same goes for the 20-year-old Jonjo Shelvey, who could have had a hat-trick after his second-half introduction.
‘How it has come to this’ is the question on many fans’ lips. The failings of the summer transfer window were always likely to come back and bite Liverpool, but still it stings.
January, naturally, is being talked about as Liverpool’s big month, but November and December are starting to look like they might be rivals. Home sweet home? Not at the moment. Not at Anfield.