Newcastle face Liverpool at Anfield in a showdown that will decide 6th place in time for the New Year.
Demba Ba will get to show £35 million man Andy Carroll what a real goal scorer looks like and Jose Enrique will get his chance to tell our boys all about the thrills and spills of European football at his new club.
So we have had the bad run we all knew would come at some stage and have luckily come out of it with a good 2-0 away victory against a poor Bolton side looking increasingly destined for the drop. If we lost that one, we would have been in a seriously bad place, but alas we have 30 points on the board now and Pedro Mk2 is slowly getting back to his old self.
Defensive midfielder Lucas misses the rest of the season following a knee injury against Chelsea at the end of last month. Alexander Doni (dislocated finger) has been out for two months and still no sign of a comeback. Jack Robinson is on the comeback trail but unlikely to be fit for this game. Captain Steven Gerrard made his comeback in the 1-1 draw with Blackburn so will face the Toon, whilst Luis Suarez misses out after getting handed a ban for a gesture made towards Fulham fans recently. He has an eight game ban hovering over him following the racism incident with Evra, but has been given 14 days to appeal.
Steven Taylor is obviously out for the season with his achilles injury. Sylvain Marveaux (groin) has no sign of a comeback date following his injury against Everton last month and Danny Guthrie (groin) is looking at mid January. Dan Gosling has completed his ban for a red card whilst Davide Santon’s knee injury was not as bad as first feared and he returns to the squad. Demba Ba took a knock during the win against Bolton and will be closely monitored prior to squad selection.
Shamrock’s top-ten really interesting stats and facts:
1 – Despite only being a single point behind them, the bookies fancy Liverpool for this massively with odds of 1-2 against 6-1 in favour of the Toon.
2 – We have faced the Reds 17 times at Anfield in the Premier League. We have won once, drawn twice and lost 14! We have not scored at Anfield since 2004 and have conceded 13 times since in just five games. This may explain the bookies’ feelings on our chances!
3 – Our last league win at Anfield was on 16th April 1994, when Rob Lee and Andy Cole scored in a 2-0 win.
4 – Of the four penalties Liverpool have been awarded this season, they have only managed to put one away.
5 – Demba Ba’s 14 goals place him as the seasons 2nd most prolific behind Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie (16). Ba’s total is more than Rooney and Aguero (13),whilst it is double the seven goals Suarez and Carroll have managed between them for the Reds!
6 – If Steven Gerrard plays, he will be taking part in his 15th fixture against the Toon. He has been directly involved in 11 goals against us so far in his career, so is quite a threat. He will also be fishing for his 130th career goal.
7 – Out of 189 career appearances, Hatem Ben Arfa has only ever played the full 90 minutes 34 times. That’s just 18% of the games he has played. Of the 15 appearances he has made for Newcastle, he has racked up an average of 46 minutes playing time per game. This will be only his 14th Premier League appearance since joining in August 2010.
8 – Shola Ameobi is still looking for his 50th career league goal, or 25th in the last 5 seasons.
9 – Talking of how worrying Gerrard is against us, Dirk Kuyt has scored 5 and set up 2 during the 8 appearances he has made against the Magpies. Luis Suarez not being involved is not neccessarily a good thing!
10 – The first Liverpool V Newcastle fixture took place on 4th November 1893. This was Newcastle United’s first season in The Football League after they, and Middlesbrough Ironopolis, were elected to the Second Division from the Northern League. We got thrashed 5-1, but would go on to finish a respectable 4th. Willie Thompson would score our consolation goal. He notched up 10 that season. The following week saw Liverpool visit us at St James’ Park in front of a crowd of 2,000! The game ended 0-0. Did you know our home colours back then were Red & White?!
Tactical thoughts and ponderings:
Liverpool have not gelled yet this season, largely due to their Captain and main influence Steven Gerrard missing most of the campaign, then losing the man that was holding them together in Lucas. Their forwards are just not clicking and I think this is because Kenny Dalglish seems fixated upon squad and tactical rotation despite not having the hectic fixture list that European football might bring. Suarez is their only constant up front, with Carroll, Kuyt and Bellamy all seemingly rotated around him in a mixture of 4-4-2’s and 4-3-3’s.
Their forwards have scored nine goals between them and have seven assists. That is a total contribution of 16 goals between all four of them. Demba Ba has scored 14 and has thre assists, a total of 17 means he has contributed more to our cause than the entire combined Liverpool front line has to theirs! For this game Suarez will be missing, so their only constant up front will be missing and Carroll will likely get a start with Bellamy or Kuyt. Either combination is still frightening in prospect.
The midfield is rotated just as much, making it a hard job to second guess who is likely to play. Stuart Downing is a major treat IF he plays. He can and will use both feet with good long distance shooting and he is more than capable of firing in the crosses. From the middle they have a combination of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Jay Spearing and Charlie Adam to chose from whilst Jonjo Shelvey is showing promise. We all know how influential Gerrard is. He can turn a game on its head in an instant and is what I would call World Class. Luckily he has been injured recently and only just made his comeback against Blackburn from the bench. He may take time to get back to his best, but like I said an instant is all it takes with him. If he plays, he needs to be shackled and Tiote will have be on the ball to keep him quiet.
Without Lucas, Liverpool’s only defensive midfielder is 23-year-old Jay Spearing who has only played for 93 minutes in total during this season’s Premier League campaign. I feel they need somebody of this mould to hold their shape, but if they go with a combination of two from Gerrard, Henderson or Adam through the middle we may have a chance to get at them with some decent link up play through the middle. Nobody to track Hatem Ben Arfa for example…
Their defence is the only thing we can be fairly sure about, with ex-Toon star Jose Enrique set to start at left back, Glen Johnson on the right and Martin Skrktel paired with Dan Agger through the middle. This is a regular set up these days, keeping Jamie Carragher out of the side whilst Martin Kelly awaits his next chance to impress at full back.
Liverpool’s form has yo-yo’d this season and they have faltered again recently with a loss to Fulham at the beginning of the month being followed up with draws against strugglers Blackburn and Wigan despite decent results against Chelsea and Man City prior to this.
As strange as their results look, they are pretty solid defensively, having conceded just five times in the last 10 games. A settled back line and experienced goalkeeper in Pepe Reina means we will need to be dynamic if we are to stand a chance of breaking through. They have only scored 10 goals compared to our 14 in the last 10 games and this is where the Reds are letting themselves down. They have the fire power with the likes of Suarez, Carroll, Bellamy, Adam and Gerrard all able to score plenty but they have not worked out how to get the balance right. (Too many cooks spoil the broth comes to mind…) Tiote to Liverpool anyone?
With our defence now benefiting from having a natural and accomplished central defender (Mike Williamson) filling the void left by Steven Taylor, I think we can feel reasonably confident that we wont get torn to shreds like say if James Perch was still in the line up. We looked so much more assured both in the air and on the ground against Bolton and although they are poor, I think this was more a direct result of having Willo back. Alan Pardew has stated that Davide Santon was only left out against the Trotters as a precaution and will be back for Liverpool. Whether that means from the bench or in the starting 11 is anyone’s guess, but it means we are starting to get some defensive depth back again following the recent return of Tiote to the staring line up and Gosling completing his ban.
Bellamy, Kuyt and Carroll are all still very dangerous in their own way and I would hate to see any of our defenders switch off even for a second. I’m having nightmares about Carroll tearing us apart at the moment, whilst Bellamy is actually ranked 12th in the Premier League when it comes to goals and assists return in comparison to minutes played.
As for our line up, we all know it will be Krul, Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini and either Santon or Ryan Taylor with a midfield or Gutierrez, Tiote, Cabaye and Obertan. Ba will be up front as the main striker if fit, leaving the gaffer with a choice between Ben Arfa and Best. Pardew has done the right thing holding Benny back this season. As a few of us said repeatedly, it takes a long time to fully recover physically and emotionally from such a horrific and career threatening injury. Slowly but surely ensures he is given a proper chance to get back to the level we all know he is capable of.
That said, he changed the whole dynamic of our teams shape when he came on against Bolton. He is still a bit rusty in my opinion, but he changed the lads’ mentality and we instantly went from 2nd gear into 4th. Even Gabriel Obertan started to look like a proper footballer!
For me he is now beginning to look confident and is influencing players around him, whilst in contrast Best looks flat and ineffectual. Maybe time to give him a start at Liverpool? No good us sitting back letting them attack us and being complacent due to their recent shortcomings. They will click at some point as they have real quality going forward. We should be looking to attack and give it a real go. For the above reasons I’d give Benny a chance to claim a role in the starting line up on a more regular basis now, starting at Liverpool seeing as they don’t have an experienced holding midfielder to drop back and cover him as he drifts along their final third.
However, if Pardew sticks with Best then that is completely understandable. It continues Benny’s rehabilitation from the bench and would allow him the opportunity to have a real impact after Best has softened the opposition up a bit – provided Best had pulled his socks up (he has been ineffectual and lethargic of late). I would not be surprised if we saw Haris Vuckic at some point too, maybe as an actual striker.
39-year-old Gloucestershire born Lee Probert will take the reigns for this one. He is an International standard Referee who is also currently taking charge of club European ties. We have not lost any of the four games he has officiated for us, with the most recent one being the 2-2 home draw with Spurs on the 16th October this year. He is enjoying a growing reputation of one of the countries most consistent men in the middle and should not let the manager or players from the ‘bigger’ team sway his decision making.
Liverpool V Newcastle United
Friday 30th December 2011
Kick off – 19:45
Venue – Anfield, Liverpool.
Howay the lads!!