Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said his side’s position in the table is “the last thing” he is thinking about after they drew at Newcastle to finish 2020 three points clear at the top of the Premier League.
The Reds end the year where they started it but a second consecutive draw against a team in the bottom half means they are only three points clear of Manchester United, who have a game in hand.
Mohamed Salah missed two key opportunities either side of half-time at St James’ Park, while Newcastle’s Fabian Schar denied Sadio Mane a tap-in with a timely clearance off the goalline in the 80th minute, reports the BBC.
Roberto Firmino also went close midway through the second period, failing to hit the target after Newcastle keeper Karl Darlow was stranded following a corner.
And the Brazil forward then saw his 88th-minute header superbly denied by Darlow as the hosts held on to a well-earned point.
“[Being top] is nice but it doesn’t mean anything,” Klopp said after the game.
“We drew tonight and we are still top of the table so that just shows how difficult the season is for everybody. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
Reds still stuttering on the road
No matter the result, Liverpool were always going to finish the calendar year at the summit of the Premier League table – it was just a question of how far they would be in front.
And a draw away to Newcastle feels like an opportunity missed.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted but it’s not the worst thing in the world and there are worse things happening,” Klopp told Amazon Prime.
“But I liked the game – we are not happy with the result but I’m fine with the performance, because that’s the way we have to play and protect.
“We did all that but it’s still disappointing.”
The champions remain firm favourites to collect back-to-back titles for the first time since 1984, but their away form is a recurring issue.
Liverpool have won seven of their eight home league games this season but on the road they’ve won just two in eight.
The Reds’ injury list, particularly in defence, is widely reported. And Klopp revealed after the game that sidelined centre-back Joel Matip is likely to be out for a further three weeks with a muscle injury.
Yet it was their attacking trio of Mane, Salah and Firmino who looked out of sorts in the North East.
All three regularly found themselves in good positions but failed to find the breakthrough. Liverpool had 11 shots in total, but only four were on target.
Bruce: ‘I hope the fans enjoyed it’
Newcastle manager Steve Bruce was quick to acknowledge 30-year-old Darlow, whose string of second-half saves kept the league-leaders at bay.
“When you play against arguably one of the best teams in the world you need a bit of luck but the spirit and the endeavour was there for all to see,” Bruce told BBC Sport.
“I am delighted with my players. Overall, I’m very, very pleased with the performance.”
Bruce came into this fixture under pressure, with his side’s style of play being heavily criticised in recent weeks.
The Magpies’ December had included just one win and a defeat in the Carabao Cup to Championship side Brentford.
And as expected they sat back and defended in numbers, having only 27% of possession in the opening 45 minutes.
But they did have chances, Callum Wilson – who returned to the starting line-up – forced Liverpool keeper Alisson into a fine save from a tight angle after 11 minutes.
And Ciaran Clark was also denied by the goalkeeper, Alisson flying to his left to keep out the defender’s header after 79 minutes.
“We knew we let everyone down in a big cup tie. We blew it,” added Bruce.
“We have to take the criticism that comes our way and accept it but I hope the supporters who watched this game today could really enjoy the performance.
“It was a great performance and let’s look forward to Sunday.”
The draw takes Bruce’s side to 14th, four points from the top half but more importantly, eight points off the bottom three.
Newcastle 0 – 0 Liverpool