7am ET, live in the US on FSC
Last four head-to-head:
1-3 Newcastle (a) 12.11.10
3-0 Liverpool (h) 05.03.09
5-1 Liverpool (a) 12.28.08
3-0 Liverpool (h) 03.08.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-0 Brum (h); 1-1 Arsenal (a); 3-0 City (h)
Newcastle: 1-1 Blackpool (a); 0-0 United (h): 0-1 Villa (a)
Liverpool: Kuyt 11; Maxi 6; Meireles 5; Gerrard 4; Carroll, Cole, Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Ngog, Skrtel, Suarez 2
Newcastle: Nolan 12; Best 6; Ameobi, Lovenkrands 5; Barton 4; Coloccini, Jonas 2; Ben Arfa, Tiote 1
Referee: Peter Walton
Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Carragher Skrtel Robinson
Kuyt Lucas Spearing Meireles
Can you change a team that won its last game 5-0? More importantly, can you drop the hat-trick hero?
Dalglish seemingly has two options: Carroll or Maxi. Either keep the faith with the Argentinean (and probably keep the the 4-4-2 diamond) or restore Carroll and the 4-2-2-2 against the massive striker's previous team. I expect it'll come down to the striker's fitness; if he's available, he'll start, no matter Maxi's treble. As usual, Dalglish was coy. Having the usual pre-match press conference on Thursdays often doesn't clarify touch-and-go injuries.
If Carroll comes back, the diamond's out. Neither Kuyt nor Suarez would thrive in a shuttling midfield role; Dalglish has the Dutchman closer to goal than ever. When this front six has been healthy – and I'm guessing Carroll will be – it's been used in a lopsided 4-2-2-2 formation since beating Sunderland in early March.
Of course, I thought using three at the back against Stoke was a one-off as well, a singular tactic used to cope with injuries and the opposition's tactics. But who'd get dropped if both Carroll and Maxi started? Kuyt? Spearing? Neither seems as likely, even after Maxi's goals against Brum.
And Carroll will do all he can to be fit. On an individual level, it's better than his first match against his boyhood club is at Anfield rather than St James' Park, where he'll have the support of the fans. These confrontations always seem to go one of two ways. Either the former player is the conquering hero (as usually happens when a past Liverpool keeper faces the Reds) or he tries too hard and ends up muzzling his team (as usually happens when Rooney faces Everton). It's nice, but expected, to read Dalglish predict the former; he certainly wasn't going to say otherwise.
Newcastle, contrary to expectations, haven't plummeted since firing Hughton, hiring Pardew, and selling Carroll. The Geordies are settled smack in the middle of the table: 11th, seven points above the drop zone and six behind seventh place. The team has won two, drawn five, and lost four since selling Carroll, although he did miss a month prior to being sold.
Like its opponents, Tyneside has also seen a fair few injuries of late. Nolan should play, having returned in the last match against Blackpool. Carroll's "replacement," Leon Best, has missed the last month. On-loan Steven Ireland's out for the final four games, while Ben Arfa has just a small chance of returning from a broken leg before the end of the season.
Newcastle has usually played 4-4-2 under Pardew, including in its last two matches: away to Blackpool and at home against United, both draws. The lone change in those games was the aforementioned Nolan comeback. Expect a backline of Simpson, Coloccini, Williamson, and Enrique; a midfield of Barton, Nolan, Tiote, and Jonas; and Amoebi and Lovenkrands up front. Nolan's always a threat, Barton's been excellent on set plays and crosses, Enrique bombs forward dangerously (which has him on Liverpool's radar), and Tiote's been one of the signings of the season, a wrecking-ball in midfield.
Prior to December's 1-3 embarrassment, Liverpool had a fantastic recent record against the Geordies, winning the previous four by a margin of 14 to 1. Let's hope the return of the King (in addition to Newcastle's loss of Carroll) will restore that sort of form.