DURING his six years as Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez developed a reputation for being an astute tactician. So while he might retain a soft spot for his former employers, the Newcastle United manager will have derived a great deal of pleasure from out-foxing Jurgen Klopp’s side this afternoon.

Newcastle weren’t able to claim a fourth win of the season at St James’ Park, but unlike some of Liverpool’s other opponents this term, they successfully neutered arguably the most potent attacking unit in the Premier League.

Save for a sparkling ten-minute spell in the first half when Philippe Coutinho broke the deadlock with a wonderful long-range strike and Georginio Wijnaldum rocked the woodwork with a close-range volley, Liverpool were restricted to hopeful balls into the box and unsuccessful attempts to prise a hole in the Newcastle back four.

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Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane were both withdrawn before the final whistle as they were unable to disrupt their opponents’ defensive organisation from the wide positions, and whereas previous Newcastle sides have been ripped apart by a succession of Liverpool line-ups, Benitez’s current crop were organised, disciplined and resolute throughout. This was a Newcastle side playing in a most un-Newcastle like manner.

Benitez deserves credit for that, and his defensive work with Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark in particular is clearly paying dividends. Lascelles was superb once again, neutering first Daniel Sturridge and then Roberto Firmino, while Clark was equally impressive save for one second-half error that did not prove costly as Rob Elliot saved Sturridge’s low strike.

With Mikel Merino running himself into the ground in order to prevent Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson from being able to break into the box, and his fellow midfielder Jonjo Shelvey proving he can keep his emotions in check, this was a containment job carried out to perfection.

Admittedly, Newcastle required a huge slick of luck to draw level after Coutinho’s wonder strike, with the ball rebounding into the net off Joselu’s shin after the striker dawdled in the area, enabling Joel Matip to tackle him, but this was still another afternoon when the Magpies’ work rate and tactical nous were their biggest strengths.

Unlike the teams that took to the field under Alan Pardew and Steve McClaren, Benitez’s Newcastle do not look like they will be ripped apart by anyone. They adopted a defensive mind-set yesterday, but then they had to. This is a Liverpool side brimming with intent.

On their day, no side in the country can match the Reds for attacking talent. If you see off Sturridge or Firmino as the central striker, you’re in danger of being overrun by Salah and Mane on the flanks.

If you cope with that duo, you have to be mindful of Wijnaldum, who scored four goals in a single game during Newcastle’s last season in the Premier League. Then, if you survive all that, you still have to deal with Coutinho.

So much for the Brazilian sulking after his proposed summer move to Barcelona fell through. Klopp has gradually reintegrated Coutinho into his side, albeit in a deeper position than he filled for the majority of last season. His new role allows him to pick up the ball in order to run at opposition defenders, and he carried it out to devastating effect as Liverpool broke the deadlock in the 29th minute.

Picking up possession after Matt Ritchie headed clear, Coutinho drifted inside Shelvey before unleashing a sensational 25-yard strike that arrowed into the top-left hand corner. It was a brilliant finish, and gave the visitors a fully-deserved lead.

In truth, Liverpool would already have been ahead at that stage had it not been for some excellent Newcastle defending and a shot that cannoned against the post.

Wijnaldum struck the woodwork, flicking a near-post volley against the upright after Coutinho whipped in a corner, and DeAndre Yedlin did superbly to clear a follow-up effort from Dejan Lovren off the line. Yedlin had already produced a magnificent challenge to deny Salah after the Egyptian galloped clear into the area, and with Lascelles also called into last-ditch action to prevent Sturridge from pulling the trigger in the box, there was a sense of inevitability about Liverpool’s opener.

Yet while Klopp can call on a frightening array of talent in attack, Liverpool’s defence continues to be their Achilles heel. Benitez’s decision to restore Shelvey to the starting line-up for the first time since his opening-weekend dismissal against Spurs was an attempt to ensure Newcastle did not lack midfield creativity, and the former Liverpool midfielder repaid his manager’s faith by fashioning his side’s equaliser seven minutes after they fell behind.

His perfectly-weighted through ball enabled Joselu to burst behind Lovren and Matip, Liverpool’s static centre-halves. The Newcastle striker spurned a host of chances against Stoke and Brighton, and looked to have erred again when his hesitancy enabled Matip to track back to make a challenge.

However, Matip’s tackle merely succeeded in cannoning the ball against Joselu’s shin, and it rebounded beyond a stranded Simon Mignolet before rolling into the net. Given Joselu’s struggles in the last few weeks, perhaps Liverpool’s defenders should simply have allowed the Spaniard to get his shot away.

Level at the interval, Newcastle’s players spent the vast majority of the second half repelling Liverpool attacks. But whereas the visitors were bright and incisive before the break, they became increasingly frantic and ragged after the interval.

That was largely a reflection of the quality of Newcastle’s defending, although hearts were in mouths five minutes into the second period as Clark made his only error of the afternoon.

The defender’s miskick afforded Sturridge a clear run on goal, but Elliot got down well to save with his legs. The ball broke invitingly for Salah on the edge of the area, but the winger hooked a hurried volley over the crossbar.

Liverpool continued to dominate possession in the second period, but it was the 84th minute before they really threatened again, with substitute Dominic Solanke heading Alberto Moreno’s left-wing cross wide of the target.

Another Liverpool replacement, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, flashed a late header over the crossbar, but it was Newcastle who came closest to grabbing a winner in stoppage time.

Ritchie’s corner fell invitingly for Mo Diame close to the edge of the six-yard box, but the midfielder’s cross was deflected and looped harmlessly into Mignolet’s arms.