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Liverpool now appear to be top-four favourites



NEWCASTLE, England — Liverpool blew the race for Champions League qualification wide open by cruising to a 2-0 victory at Newcastle on a day when the home side played 10 men for 68 minutes after sending off goalkeeper Nick Pope in the first half.
The red card means Pope will be suspended for the Carabao Cup final next Sunday, a huge blow to Newcastle United.

Rapid reaction

1. Statement win has Liverpool poised to nab Champions League spot

Make a note of the date as this was the day that Liverpool’s faltering season finally clicked into gear.

Jurgen Klopp’s side have been languishing mid-table since making a woeful start to the campaign last August, but after beating Newcastle at St James’ Park, they are now ready to surge up the table and claim the fourth and final Champions League spot.

Yes, they are still in eighth position, behind Newcastle and Tottenham, but the manner in which Liverpool blew away the hosts in the opening 20 minutes was a reminder of the quality and experience throughout Liverpool’s squad.

2. Everything is falling apart for Newcastle, who now appear to be struggling

It may have gone largely unnoticed as they gear up for their first grand final of this century, but Newcastle are downhill and this result confirmed that manager Eddie Howe’s side have reached the ropes.

Liverpool’s win at St James’ Park was only Newcastle’s second Premier League defeat of the season – the other came in a late defeat to Liverpool in August – but Howe’s side have won just one of their last seven league games. Their recent form has seen them win one, draw five and lose this game to Liverpool. And another deeply worrying statistic is their lack of goals, as Newcastle have only managed three goals in those seven games.

They are now just two points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham and any hope of finishing better than fourth has been dashed by Manchester United’s recent rise which puts them five points clear of Newcastle in third place.

So what happened to Newcastle?

They have clearly stopped scoring but lack creativity without Bruno Guimaraes suspended in midfield. The Brazil international cannot carry Newcastle on his own and the results had already faded before he started his three-game ban which ended with this game. But with Howe rarely changing his squad due to a lack of depth at St James Park, fatigue appears to be starting to take its toll at Newcastle too.

However, the pressure, fatigue and lack of goals are a bad combination: Newcastle are in trouble.

3. Pope’s red card creates nightmare scenario: third-choice goalkeeper at Carabao Cup

Goalkeeper Nick Pope’s red card in the first half for handling the ball outside his box led to a nightmare scenario for Newcastle.

Early on they lost the England goalkeeper for the rest of the game and had to play 68 minutes with ten men, which was an impossible situation as Newcastle were already 2–0 down. But this game was already lost when Pope was sent off: the big problem caused by his sending off will develop in the next week when manager Eddie Howe tries to solve the goalkeeping crisis that caused Pope.

Pope’s red card means he will be suspended for the Carabao Cup final against Manchester United next Sunday, but as if that blow weren’t heavy enough, Howe will also be without second Martin Dubravka as the Slovakian international suspended playing in the first round of the league while on loan at Manchester United, yes you guessed it.

Then, Howe addresses the appointment of Loris Karius in goal, the former Liverpool goalkeeper whose career has never recovered since he was blamed for the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in Kyiv in 2018.

Karius, who signed as a free agent after being released by Liverpool last summer, has not played a competitive game for two years and has spent his time at Newcastle on the bench.

Newcastle may consider bringing back Karl Darlow from his loan spell at Hull City, where he hasn’t even played, but if his loan doesn’t include an emergency recall clause, he won’t be able to return. But even if he does, Howe will have to choose between Karius and Darlow, two goalkeepers who have watched from the sidelines this season.

It’s Newcastle’s biggest game in over 20 years, but they will have a keeper on goal who isn’t even considered good enough to sit on the bench when Pope and Dubravka are available.