Life without Luis Suarez looked pretty ok for Liverpool, who came away from St. James' Park with a thumping 6-0 win. The scoreline didn't reflect the utter dominance of the visitors -- Newcastle were utterly horrendous and could plausibly have given up double digits, while the Reds, inspired by Phillippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, played brilliantly despite the absence of their talisman.
Liverpool got off to a flying start, taking advantage of some horrendous defending to go 1-0 up within three minutes. Panic in Robert Elliot's box was only partially alleviated by a clearance that went straight to Jose Enrique. With the back line stepping up, the former Magpie hit a first-time cross back into the box, allowing Daniel Agger to waltz back into the area and, completely free, nod the delivery home.
And the poor defending didn't stop there. A quarter of an hour later, the combination of Sturridge and Coutinho undid the hosts once more. The latter opened them up with an outside of the boot pass that left Steven Taylor stranded, and Sturridge ran onto the ball, going one on one against Elliot before squaring for Jordan Henderson. The former Sunderland man didn't have much to do but slot into the empty net, and he duly doubled Liverpool's lead.
Newcastle were in real trouble, and they didn't help themselves out when they spurned their first real chance in the 36th minute. Massadio Haidara did superbly on the left to get clear and pick out the unmarked James Perch five yards from Pepe Reina's goal, but the midfielder completely mistimed his jump, allowing the ball to hit the side of his head and bounce wide.
Frustration for the home side led to some feisty play. Five yellows were dished out in the first half, and both Cheick Tiote and Glen Johnson might have seen red after a bizarre altercation that had more in common with a wrestling competition than a football match. Happily for Alan Pardew, Newcastle channeled their aggression in more productive fashion in the second half.
Not that it mattered. After half-chances from Yoann Gouffran and Yohan Cabaye, Liverpool struck again through that deadly combination of Sturridge and Coutinho. This time, there was no Henderson required -- Coutinho played an exquisite pass that squeezed its way between Matheiu Debuchy and Taylor for Sturridge to blast past Elliot and into the roof of the net.
Insult was added to Magpie injury when their appeals for a penalty against Lucas Leiva were turned down. Granted, Hatem Ben Arfa's shot came in at speed, but it looked goalbound before hitting the Liverpool midfielder on the elbow and bouncing away. Then more injury was piled on top of the insult.
To call Newcastle's defending abject to is to a disservice to abject defending worldwide. Their offside trap was somehow beaten by three Liverpool players simultaneously, leading to the rather amusing sight of Henderson, Coutinho and Sturridge all bearing down on Elliot's goal at once. Eventually, the ball found its way to Sturridge, who paused before slotting home for his brace.
Steven Gerrard was then withdrawn for the injury-plagued Fabio Borini, who made an impression by scoring with his second touch. Set up by fantastic play from Stewart Downing, the former Roma man found himself with the ball eight yards out, and he prodded calmly into the bottom corner.
Newcastle were miserable, and Debuchy took out his frustrations on Countinho, wiping out the Brazilian with a two-footed tackle that earned him his second yellow card and an early bath. From the free kick, Henderson's whipped delivery evaded everyone in the box, flew past Elliot and parked itself in the bottom corner to make it 6-0.
It could have gotten worse. Coutinho hadn't scored yet and attempted to rectify that deficiency with a long-range piledriver which Elliot just about managed to palm onto the crossbar, and Sturridge could have had a penalty after being wrestled to the ground by Taylor. But mercifully, the beating ended at six.