10 December 2010

Liverpool at Newcastle 12.11.10

12:30pm ET, live in the US on FSC

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (h) 05.03.09
5-1 Liverpool (a) 12.28.08
3-0 Liverpool (h) 03.08.08
3-0 Liverpool (a) 11.24.07

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Villa (h); 1-1 Steaua (a); 1-2 Spurs (a)
Newcastle: 1-3 WBA (a); 1-1 Chelsea (h); 1-5 Bolton (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Torres 5; Gerrard, Maxi 3; Kuyt, Kyrgiakos, Ngog 2; Johnson, Babel, Skrtel 1
Newcastle: Carroll 9; Nolan 7; Ameobi 3; Barton, Ben Arfa, Coloccini, Jonas, Lovenkrands 1

Referee: Lee Mason

Mason's last three Liverpool matches were a draw at Stoke and losses to Portsmouth and Fulham. He sent off Degen and Carragher against Fulham and Mascherano against Pompey. A bad luck charm, to put it nicely, and one of my least-favorite referees in the league.

Guess at a line-up:

Johnson Kyrgiakos Skrtel Konchesky
Kuyt Meireles Lucas Maxi
Ngog Torres

It's likely to be same again other than the return of Torres following the birth of his second child. Hodgson clearly likes settled teams and Gerrard will miss at least one more match.

It pains me to write, but on current form, there's an argument for dropping Dirk Kuyt. Either Babel or Cole could take his place. Babel's started the last two games up front, and has impressed in both, but has also featured on the right in the past; his cross from the right flank set up Jovanovic's goal against Steaua. Cole came off the bench for Kuyt last Monday, and while he only had 10 minutes in a dead game to attempt an impact, he still looks some ways off form. Nonetheless, I'll be surprised if Kuyt isn't in the starting XI; it's no coincidence that the last two managers have been firm fans despite their other vast differences. Babel could also come in for Ngog, paired with Torres after a goal and an assist in his last two matches, but that seems far less likely.

Newcastle's been in the headlines all week because of Mike Ashley's strange decision to fire Chris Hughton, who settled the ship last season and earned some surprising results this season, and the stranger decision to hire Alan Pardew, who's been out of a job since being sacked by League One Southampton in August. Admittedly, Newcastle have regressed since beating Arsenal at the Emirates in early November, but firing Hughton came straight out of the blue, despite rumors that Ashley had wanted to for some time now. You always fear that a new manager will catalyze the team, but in this case, we're just as likely to see morale plummet through the floor. Neither would surprise me, honestly.

Aside from a home draw against faltering Chelsea, the Geordies have stuttered recently, losing 1-5 at Bolton and 1-3 at West Brom, allowing Ashley to pull the trigger. But they've missed key players during that spell, and captain Kevin Nolan and the lovably psychotic Joey Barton should both return from injury on Saturday. Nolan has seven goals this season playing in an advanced position, only bested by Andy Carroll, who's done a superlative job leading the line.

Liverpool has an excellent record against Newcastle in recent years, having won their last four meetings by a 14-1 margin. On the last visit to St James' Park, almost two years ago, Liverpool won 5-1. But it goes without saying that we haven't seen anywhere near that form away from Anfield this season. Liverpool's still only won away once in the league this season – at Bolton at the end of October. At Anfield, the side's won five, drawn two, and lost once, scoring 15 while conceding six. Liverpool's record on the road is almost a polar opposite: one win, two draws, and five losses, scoring five and conceding 13. Every away match has seen grumbles about ambition and attacking desire, and the results bear that out.

But if Liverpool can manage a win tomorrow, coupled with other results going the right way (bettering Bolton and Sunderland's performances), the side will reach the heady heights of sixth. The early season form will continue to inspire complaints and regrets, but there is still time to make something of this season. If Liverpool can starting winning away from Anfield.

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