I really do hate to sound overly optimistic, but after Liverpool absolutely battered Southampton during their 6-1 drubbing in the League Cup quarter-final on Thursday, you can’t actually give Newcastle United a chance of winning on Sunday, can you?
Sure, it’s a “funny old game” and all that, but with the Geordies struggling to even imitate a Premier League caliber club, there’s not a lot of faith in Steve McLaren’s ability to pull a result out of this one even though they’re playing at home. The Reds, of course, have actually been better on the road than they have at Anfield with the Saints, Manchester City and defending champions Chelsea brushed aside in their travels — at risk of sounding hyperbolic, this is one is in the bag, isn’t it?
Obviously that’s not the case; one only needs to think back on the 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace, which came on the back of a resounding win at Stamford Bridge, for a much needed dose of reality. Jurgen Klopp may have this side looking like a well oiled machine, but even the poshest sports cars break down now and again and we’ll do well not to bottom out at the massive speed bump that we all know that St. James Park can be.
If there’s one thing that the win over Southampton showed us, it’s that Liverpool now have options. Daniel Sturridge scored a first half brace on his first start under his new boss and Divock Origi went on to bag a hat-trick before the final whistle. We knew the former could find the net, but seeing the precision the latter showed in both his movement and his finishing was encouraging. Now, just what Klopp will do with that information this weekend is the real question; if he chooses to deploy two strikers, Origi could make way for his compatriot in Christian Benteke, or Sturridge, who still isn’t 100% match fit, could drop to the bench.
While that’s a good problem to have, one thing that remains a concern is the fitness of Philippe Coutinho with the Reds boss confirming in his pre-match presser that the Brazilian is still struggling with the hamstring problem that has kept him out of Liverpool’s last three outings. Roberto Firmino will likely be drafted into the side in his place in a like for like swap, but who will be deployed in place of Emre Can, who picked up a one match suspension after being shown his fifth yellow card of the season at Saint Mary’s on Thursday, remains to be seen. Joe Allen did well midweek, but the nod will likely go to Jordan Henderson with the captain making two cameo appearances after a foot injury kept him out since the end of August.
In the build-up to Sunday’s meeting with the Reds, Mclaren has confirmed that the confidence of his side is very “fragile” and that no one is “happy” at the club. It’s easy to see why — winning only twice in 14-games, sitting second from bottom and having seen an astounding 30-goals fly past them, the Magpies aren’t the side that you remember.
Adding to an already extensive injury list, defender Mike Williamson, who was recalled from his loan spell at Wolverhampton Wanderers to help make up the numbers, suffered a hamstring injury in training on Thursday and is unlikely to feature. On the back of a 5-1 loss to Crystal Palace, that might be some of the worst possible news they could have got going into a meeting with an in form Liverpool side considering both Jamaal Lascelles and Steven Taylor are also sidelined with knocks.
If nothing else, Newcastle’s best bet would be to pretend that they’re playing at Anfield and look to stifle and contain the Reds rather than come out and attack as they’d be expected to do at home. Papiss Cisse and Georginio Wijnaldum are both strong on the break and if they can successfully keep the visitors at bay, Mclaren will be looking to those two to snatch their opportunities when they come.
If they come, I suppose, would be more appropriate. After struggling throughout last season and during the beginning of this one, Klopp seems to be turning around Liverpool’s much discussed defensive problems. While that’s sure to play a massive part in the Anfield outfits run to top four football, it’s going to do nothing to help Newcastle stave off relegation. And you know what? I’m just fine with that. Shocking, right?