Having faced a huge setback in their attempts to reach back to back Champions League finals, Liverpool return to Premier League action, where the hunt for the big trophy is still very much alive. Whilst it feels like City will never drop points again, Liverpool know that all they can do is win their last two games and hope, and that starts on Saturday night against Newcastle. So what are some of the potential key battles from this game?
Trent Alexander-Arnold vs Matt Ritchie
One of Rafa Benitez’s biggest tactical successes at Newcastle has been converting Matt Ritchie from a decent right winger to a really solid left-wing back. A player who has become an important lynchpin in Newcastle’s defensive structure and a paragon of hard work under Rafa, Ritchie will make life very difficult for Trent Alexander-Arnold at both ends of the pitch, although primarily in terms of how he will stop Trent from supporting Salah.
Trent will be up for a big game having been rested against Barcelona, and will be looking to bomb forward given how deep Newcastle will defend. Given his quality on the ball, Trent will be a huge part of Liverpool’s attack as they look to break down a stubborn Newcastle side unless Ritchie can keep him quiet.
Jordan Henderson vs Jonjo Shelvey
Former teammates playing on opposite sides is always an interesting sub-narrative. Shelvey has been a bit-part player for Newcastle this season, reintroduced to their midfield in recent weeks more by necessity than choice. But he’s still an extremely talented passer of the ball and will be out to prove a point against Henderson, who is in hot form at the moment and was excellent off the bench against Barcelona in midweek. We know Liverpool will dominate possession but whether Henderson can produce some real quality to lift Liverpool, or whether Shelvey will be able to have a good game, both in terms of neutralising Hendo and in terms of producing quality on the counter-attack, will go a long way towards deciding this game.
Joël Matip vs Salomon Rondon
Rondon is another Newcastle player who deserves a lot of credit – contributing nine goals and seven assists in one of the most defensive sides in the league. His hold-up play is absolutely fantastic and vital to the way Newcastle play, and to that end, if he can isolate Matip, Liverpool will need a big game from their Cameroonian centre-back.
That’s not to say Matip isn’t capable, he’s been absolutely excellent since returning to the side, and Rondon is the sort of test that he usually excels at, but the fact remains that Rondon will be an absolute handful, and incredibly dangerous. Liverpool could be in real trouble if Lovren plays there instead.