Eager to right the wrongs of last weekend’s defeat at Brighton, we welcome Liverpool to St James’ Park tomorrow afternoon for yet another ‘Super Sunday’ clash live on Sky Sports.
It’s a famous Premier League fixture and one which always seems to whip up a great atmosphere. The brilliant Gallowgate Flags are also set to put on their biggest display yet, promising to provide yet another superb spectacle at St James’, whilst chants of ‘Rafa Benitez’ may even come from both sets of supporters – with the scousers understandably having a soft spot for the man who gave the a Champions League trophy.
As for the game itself, I have mixed thoughts. You can’t help but hope there’ll be a response from the below par performance at Brighton, however it may take a tactical master class from Rafa and a monumental effort from the team to keep Klopp’s free scoring forward line at bay. That being said, the visitors have conceded a whopping TEN goals in their three away outings so far in the league this season.
As ever this season, I expect us to sit deep, aim to absorb any pressure and hit them on the counter as and when an opening emerges. We must stay patient and compact, whilst Liverpool will no doubt press high and play with real intensity – in their attacking third anyway.
Our strengths this season have largely been our defensive solidarity and our weakness has tended to be in attack. In contrast, Liverpools look devastating going forward, but can be there for the taking defensively. Two contrasting styles, a case of defence vs attack and a tough one for us to come out on top of.
Team wise I don’t actually suspect many changes despite a defeat last time out. I get the feeling Lejeune will be seen as our best centre back before long, but highly doubt he’ll be thrown in for this one, with Lascelles and Clark highly likely to continue at the back.
Either side of them, Yedlin and Mbemba will be facing the difficult task of marking Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, with Mane vs Yedlin looking like a particularly tasty battle of two real speed freaks.
Hayden was poor at Brighton and didn’t offer nearly enough, meaning there’ll be even more calls for Shelvey to return to the side at his expense. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the a potential Shelvey-Merino partnership, but I’m not sure this is the right time to try it. Hayden has his limitations but I’m sure we’ll agree he offers more defensively than Shelvey, providing higher energy and discipline off the ball.
Shelvey gives us much more when we have the ball, but I’m not expecting us to have much of it during tomorrow’s game. For these reasons, I expect Rafa to go with Hayden once again – after all, we’ve won both home games he and Merino have started. Both are defensively sound, whilst Merino also possesses that quality on the ball to thread passes and instigate attacks.
Ritchie and Atsu will almost certainly start out wide once again and we’ll require big performances at both ends of the pitch from those two.
In the final third, Perez & Joselu have started the last last three, but have lacked final product in their last two outings in particular. For this reason I’d be tempted to try Shelvey in a slightly advanced midfield role in Perez’s place. It’s unlikely to happen, but I feel Shelvey has the cutting edge Ayoze often lacks and that could be key, with us needing to take advantage of every opening Liverpool may give us tomorrow.
Joselu has gained some slightly harsh criticism over the past few weeks for me. Yes he’s missed some BIG chances – one of which cost us dearly at Brighton – however his all round play has been good, having put himself about and given us a focal point up top.
It goes without saying that he’ll need to start converting his chances soon or it could continue to cost us and ruin his confidence in front of goal, but people often say the most worrying time for a striker is when they aren’t getting any chances to score at all and he’s getting himself in good positions to score.
I’d understand temptations to start Gayle, who’d more than likely gobble up the chances Joselu has been missing, but I’d like to see the Spaniard given another crack at it. His former teammate Steve Sidwell stated this week that he was the best finisher at Stoke, and as hard as this may seem to believe right now, it may just be a matter of time until things click if he keeps getting himself into good goalscoring positions.
Aleksandar Mitrovic is back from a ban, but he’ll have to show Rafa he can be trusted before he’s handed start in his side.
Liverpool’s front four look ridiculously good, with the quartet of Salah, Coutinho, Mane and Firmino all fit and available to play – meaning tomorrow will be the first time Klopp has had the opportunity to field his awesome foursome in the league this season.
Salah & Mane will most likely start out wide, with the pair possessing frightening pace & an eye for goal, with the duo having already scored 7 times in just 8 league starts between them this season.
Coutinho has a wand of a right foot and can’t be afforded any space – even from 30 yards, with so many of his goals coming from range.
Then there’s Firmino. A skilful player who may be hard to pick up in the false number 9 role he’s often taken up this season.
In midfield Gini Wijnaldum will make his return to Tyneside. He’s improved his all round game according to Klopp and, as we saw during his season at the club, he likes to score at St James’ – however he doesn’t do goals away from home remember? (Fully expect him to score now!).
As good as they look going forward, they have been leaky in defence, having failed to keep a clean sheet in six attempts away from home this season. They have ongoing issues in goal, have lacked continuity at full-back and look vulnerable from set pieces, offering three areas we must look to exploit tomorrow.
For a closer look at tomorrow’s opponents, see our weekly feature ‘The Opposition Opinion’. Here we’ve been speaking to Liverpool fan Peter who has offered some insight into this Liverpool side, his thoughts on NUFC and how he thinks the game may pan out.
Newcastle (9th) – Last 5 in the league – Won: 3 / Drawn: 0 / Lost: 2
Liverpool (5th) – Last 5 in the league / Won: 3 / Drawn: 0 / Lost: 2
Aleksandar Mitrovic is available for the first time this month after completing a 3-match suspension, with Paul Dummett and Massaido Haidara the only absentees through injury.
Rafa confirmed Florian Lejeune is back after missing Brighton and in contention once again, giving Benitez some healthy selection problems to mull over this weekend.
Liverpool will have Senegalese winger Sadio Mane back from a ban and, unfortunately for us, Philipe Coutinho has rejoined the fold in recent weeks, meaning he’ll be up to speed and ready to start after missing their opening four games of the season.
Nathaniel Clyne remains out with a back injury, while Adam Lallana is still deemed several weeks away from returning.
Newcastle United XI – (4-2-3-1) – Elliot – Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Mbemba – Hayden, Merino – Ritchie, Shelvey , Atsu – Joselu
Perez OUT, Shelvey IN – This is a sneaky suspicion of mine and a prediction I’m making more in hope than expectation, but I’ll go with it. Shelvey is one of few players in our team who can unlock the door and I believe he has the ability to do more damage just ahead of a midfield pivot than Perez has playing off the striker. If this were to happen, he’d likely take up a slightly deeper starting position than the one Perez normally does, however this would give us the option of him falling back into a three-man midfield, offering greater protection when Liverpool have the ball?
Liverpool XI (4-3-3) – Mignolet – Gomez, Matip, Lovren, Robertson – Wijnaldum, Henderson, Coutinho – Salah, Firmino, Mane.
We’re unbeaten in our last three against Liverpool at St. James’, winning two and drawing one. Ironically, the last home win against the Reds came at the hands of ex-NUFC and current Liverpool midfielder Gini Wijnaldum, who sealed a 2-0 win with a 93rd minute goal in 2015.
I see this being our toughest test this season. I expect us to be ‘at it’ in response to our tame display at Brighton last weekend, but whether that will be be enough contain this frighteningly good Liverpool attack is another matter entirely.
Liverpool can be sloppy and naive, so I see us scoring and making it competitive, but fear they might just have a little too much for us to handle in attack.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-3 Liverpool
Howay the lads!