With the halfway point of the season now fully surpassed, Liverpool are now able to zero in on their immediate competition. At the season’s outset, everyone would have predicted another battle with Manchester City for the title, though much has changed since this campaigns inception. The likes of Manchester United and Tottenham were always likely to be in the mix for those four Champions League spots, with Arsenal and Manchester City pretty much nailed on for two of the four places. This year has seen one more team become a real threat to that group, which makes this game an absolute must watch.
This season has seen a new contender gate-crash the top table, one that has so far been able to take advantage of the horrendous form at both Anfield and Stamford Bridge. With a controlled setup and some very astute money spent, Newcastle appears to have evolved from their prior struggles, and now become a true adversary for this stuttering Liverpool. This weekend’s game represents a historic tie within the Premier League era, which could be about to produce yet another classic match-up.
The Magpies come into this game on the back of two disappointing 1-1 draws. Their home game against West Ham was followed by an uninspiring trip to Bournemouth, with each game seeing them unable to fully capitalise on the failures of their closest competitors. With 41 points taken from 22 games played, it’s an amazing achievement given that 40 points would have been the previous end of season target for all of their recent campaigns. Despite some reservations over Eddie Howe’s overall tactical approach, it has to be admired how he has made the Toon so hard to overcome, in such a short period of time. This game really does represent another stepping stone moment in the rise of his club, one which could create an ongoing pathway to more success.
On the availability front, the St. James’ Park outfit will be without former red, Javier Manquillo, the brilliant Bruno Guimaraes, Matt Targett, Joe Willock and Emil Krafth. There will be late calls on the fitness of Callum Wilson, Miguel Almiron, Jamaal Lascelles and Allan Saint-Maximin, who are all carrying minor knocks. All those with a chance should still be available for selection, therefore this injury list is manageable. In terms of a likely starting line-up, the underwhelming trip to Howe’s former employers, Bournemouth, last week, means a few changes may be needed in order to liven up his squad. In goal will see Nick Pope starting, with a back four comprising Dan Burn, the impressive Sven Botman, Fabian Schär, and Kieran Trippier. The midfield three will see Joelinton and Sean Longstaff joined by either Ryan Fraser or Matt Richie, with Joe Willock out. A system alteration could see Anthony Gordon start this game, however if the three forwards remain fit, it’s likely he’ll continue to be held back. A forward line of Alexander Isak, Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almirón struggled last time out, so if one were to drop out, it could still offer an avenue for the former Everton wide man.
Liverpool come into this game on the back of an impressive Merseyside derby win, with a comprehensive 2-0 win against Everton. That game showed more and more confidence grow throughout the players, with a very energized showing from the reds. That result will hopefully be the turning point they were hoping for, especially after their horrid 3-0 away loss to Wolves in the previous week. With just 32 points taken from 21 games played, each game now becomes must win occasions for Jürgen Klopp. With a game in hand on the Toon Army, the opportunity to take all three points must surely make Liverpool desperate for another good performance.
On the injury front, Jürgen Klopp is still without Ibrahima Konaté. Also, on the treatment table remains Luis Diaz, Arthur Melo, Calvin Ramsay, and Thiago Alcantara. The injury list is improving, but both sides will still be missing some key names for Saturday evenings game.
Alisson Becker will start in goal, with Virgil likely to replace Joël Matip. Joe Gomez is likely to be retained ahead of the Cameroonian, after a very good game on Monday night. Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold should be the starting fullbacks. The midfield should see the captain, Jordan Henderson, start alongside Fabinho and Stefan Bajčetić, after their good outing against the Toffees. Up front will surely see Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, and Cody Gakpo keep their places, after good signs emerging in their last outing.
Momentum and urgency could be the difference here, with Liverpool having recent experience in having to close the gap on top four. Newcastle is an entirely different animal without Bruno Guimaraes, and will perhaps look to catch the visitors on the counter. The reds may walk into this game with a renewed intent, especially with Virgil, Bobby and Jota, all now fit for selection.
This result is hard to predict, with Newcastle so organised and Liverpool so inconsistent. There is the feeling that with so much riding on this game, a continued response from the Anfield side is almost inevitable. With that, I can see a tight game ending with the reds taking all three points.
Player to watch – Virgil van Dijk
Newcastle 1 – 2 Liverpool