A lacklustre Liverpool limped out of 2020 as they were held to a goalless draw by Newcastle United at St James’ Park.
The visitors had a host of chances, particularly in the second half, but lacked the cutting edge needed to finish off Bruce’s impressive Magpies, just three days after they were held to a draw by West Brom at Anfield.
A point sees Liverpool lead the Premier League by three points heading into 2021 having played a game more than closest challengers Manchester United, while Newcastle’s point sees them leapfrog Crystal Palace in the table and offers hope of a brighter spell ahead in the new year.
Newcastle’s Callum Wilson, who started in place of Miguel Almiron in the only change from the side who lost to Manchester City, was lively throughout the first half, forcing Alisson into an early save. And it was Wilson who went closest to open the scoring for the hosts early on when he out-muscled Nathaniel Phillips before being denied by a Fabinho block at the near post.
Liverpool started slowly but grew into the match before half-time and would have gone in ahead were it not for a superb fingertip save from Karl Darlow to deny Mohamed Salah when the Egyptian was clean through.
The chances kept coming after the break, with Salah and Roberto Firmino missing further golden chances for the visitors and Fabian Schar producing a stunning clearance off the line to deny Sadio Mane late on.
But Liverpool just couldn’t find the winner in a tense final ten minutes as Newcastle held on for a point that their spirited performance deserved.
Klopp: '2020 had one highlight and lots of challenges'
Talking Point – Where has Liverpool’s spark gone?
Liverpool did not look like themselves for much of the night at St James’ Park, and while they still feel they should have won it, Jurgen Klopp’s side will make the journey back to Merseyside knowing that something is slightly off-kilter at the moment.
It could be as simple as the congested fixture list catching up with the players’ fitness, but the fact that Mo Salah and Firmino both missed very presentable chances will also be a worry for Klopp. The defending champions have done a superb job coping with the loss of their first-choice central defenders in recent weeks, but there isn’t enough of a gap at the top of the table for Liverpool to be able to afford to spurn points like they did this evening too many more times.
Klopp will have his fingers crossed that the draws to West Brom and Newcastle are just a blip, and he can be grateful for some kind scheduling that sees his team held back for the Monday night game in the next matchday, affording his players a five-day turnaround – quite the rarity at this time of year.
Man of the Match – Karl Darlow (Newcastle United)
The Newcastle keeper produced some stunning saves in the match, none better than his fingertip stop to deny Salah in the first half. As the pressure built late on it was Darlow who time and again denied Liverpool, and he deservedly got a hug from his manager at full-time.
This wasn’t a case of a goalkeeper bailing his team out, however, as Newcastle produced an excellent defensive performance all-round, limiting Liverpool to relatively few sights of goal. But when those opportunities did come for the visitors, Darlow was equal to the task.
Newcastle: Darlow 9, Yedlin 8, Schar 8, Fernandez 7, Clark 7, Ritchie 7, Hayden 6, M. Longstaff 6, Murphy 6, Joelinton 6, Wilson 8. Subs: Almiron 6, Lewis 6
Liverpool: Alisson 7, Alexander-Arnold 7, Phillips 5, Fabinho 6, Robertson 7, Milner 5, Henderson 6, Jones 5, Mane 7, Salah 6, Firmino 5. Subs: Wijnaldum 6, Thiago 6, Shaqiri 6.
13’ – Wilson makes Phillips look a bit silly with a superb run that brushes the centre-back aside. The angle at the end of the run is quite a tight one for a shot, but it still takes Fabinho to come across and deny the Newcastle forward with a last-ditch block.
34’ – That’s a superb stop from Darlow to keep Newcastle level. Henderson’s floated pass over the top isn’t tracked by the centre-backs and Salah is clean through, only for the Newcastle stopper to rush out and get a crucial touch with his right fingertips to send the shot wide.
81’ – Darlow saves onto the shin of Mane and the ball loops up to seemingly present a tap-in for the Liverpool forward... only for Schar to steam in from nowhere and clear off the line. That's sensational defending.
89’ – How did that not go in?! Darlow makes a stunning save from a Liverpool corner and then gets quickly back on his feet to help clear the danger. The save was even more impressive because he palmed it away from the waiting Salah.
This was the first goalless draw between Newcastle and Liverpool since 1974.
Newcastle haven't lost at St James' Park to a reigning Premier League Champion in the last four years, winning two and drawing two of those games.
Liverpool picked up 77 points on 2020, the most of any time in the Premier League. It is the third calendar year in a row that Jurgen Klopp’s side have topped that particular stat.