On two occasions when head coach of Wolfsburg, Steve McClaren faced a progressive Borussia Dortmund team managed by Jurgen Klopp, with 2-0 and 3-0 losses ensuing. The latter defeat in January 2011 was soon followed by another reversal at Hannover with McClaren subsequently dismissed from his role, while Klopp’s team clinched the Bundesliga title that season. At St James’ Park on Sunday the clash between Newcastle and Liverpool again featured both managers in opposite dugouts with the Magpies second bottom of the Premier League and the Reds being tipped as potential title winners by May. Liverpool had won 6-1 at Southampton in a midweek League Cup tie with Newcastle losing 5-1 at Crystal Palace in their previous game and many home supporters fearing another heavy defeat accompanied by the potential sacking of McClaren. Yet football can be a strange game.
Prior to their Premier League game at Newcastle, Liverpool had achieved impressive victories at both Chelsea and Manchester City by adopting the pressing and counter-attacking methods adopted by Klopp at Borussia Dortmund. The 6-1 win at Southampton provided further proof of the vast improvement of the Merseyside team under the German whereas Newcastle had slumped to a 3-0 home defeat by Leicester in their previous home match.
Yet Klopp decided to relegate both Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi to the substitute’s bench for this game despite the two strikers sharing five goals in midweek. It was deemed that Sturridge could not start two games in five days after recently returning from injury. For Newcastle, Dutchman Siem de Jong was introduced into the attacking starting line-up and was effectively used a target man in an anchor role behind the main striker Papiss Cisse.
Newcastle began the game nervously and were perhaps expecting a Liverpool onslaught which never fully materialised. Both goalkeepers were barely tested during a first half of few noteworthy goalmouth incidents as the home defence aimed to stifle the visiting attack.
The Magpies visibly grew in confidence during the second period and were being backed by an increasingly expectant home crowd and when Martin Skrtel deflected a Georginio Wijnaldum effort into his own goal, there was a sense of a real upset developing.
Daniel Sturridge had already been introduced by that stage but his impact was minimal with just one chance spurned. As Liverpool struggled to create any real decisive openings, Newcastle countered once again during added time with Moussa Sissoko supplying an accurate pass for Wijnaldum to chip over the Liverpool ‘keeper and into the empty net.
It was an unlikely 2-0 victory for Newcastle with McClaren stressing before the game that his players desperately needed a boost in confidence. It will be hoped that his first win against Klopp will erase the memory of those difficult days during the winter of 2011 and may also help provide some impetus for the Magpies in what has been a troubled 2015 on Tyneside.