03 November 2012

Liverpool v Newcastle 11.04.12

11am ET, live in the US on FSC

Last four head-to-head:
0-2 Newcastle (a) 04.01.12
3-1 Liverpool (h) 12.30.11
3-0 Liverpool (h) 05.01.11
1-3 Newcastle (a) 01.11.10

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-3 Swansea (h); 2-2 Everton (a); 1-0 Anzhi (h)
Newcastle: 2-1 West Brom (h); 1-0 Bruges (h); 1-1 Sunderland (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 6; Gerrard, Şahin, Skrtel, Sterling 1
Newcastle: Ba 7; Ben Arfa 2; Cabaye, Cisse 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Guess at a line-up:
Wisdom Skrtel Agger Enrique
Gerrard Allen
Sterling Suarez Suso

Given Liverpool's now-normal lack of rotation, there are seemingly just three line-up questions. Two have to do with who's fit, one is a straight decision involving who plays as the most-advanced midfielder.

Rodgers gave little away in yesterday's press conference, but both Reina and Johnson seem likely to be out for at least another match. Each player has a set replacement if they're unavailable: Jones or Reina in goal, Johnson or Enrique at left-back. Wisdom looks almost certain to reclaim the right-back spot regardless of Johnson's participation.

The third choice is between Şahin and Shelvey for the attacking midfielder role. Şahin disappointed against Everton, withdrawn at halftime, and wasn't all that great against Reading either. Shelvey disappointed against Swansea and frequently underwhelms when played with Gerrard, both often trying to fill the same role.

Otherwise, Skrtel and Agger will be the center-back partnership, Gerrard and Allen will be the central midfield partnership – even if Joe Allen looked supremely fatigued on Wednesday – and the front three will be Sterling, Suarez, and Suso. It was Suso on the right, Sterling on the left in matches against Norwich, Stoke, and Reading, but the two swapped flanks when facing Everton last week. In theory, Sterling would probably be more valuable on the right, as left-back Santon is the more attacking of Newcastle's full-backs, but where Ben Arfa lines up will also play into the equation – ideally using Sterling's pace to force Ben Arfa into unwanted defensive duties, duties which he's likely to neglect.

Newcastle were one of the sides to wholly negate Rodgers' philosophy when traveling to Swansea last season. Rodgers' side had 19 shots to Newcastle's five, attempted and completed over 650 more passes, made five times as many passes in the attacking third, had 77% possession, and created 11 more chances. And lost by two goals, both scored by Papiss Cisse, both set up by Cabaye, both sumptuous finishes coming on the counter-attack. And Liverpool's often been exposed on the counter-attack, whether against Arsenal earlier in the season, Young Boys or Udinese in Europe, or Swansea in the League Cup.

All that possession and all those passes mean absolutely nothing if you don't have the players to convert it into goals. Especially if the opposition does. Cisse may not be in the same red-hot form he was last April, but between him, Ba, and Ben Arfa, Newcastle have the ability to punish Liverpool on the break. The defense cannot be as exposed as it was on Wednesday, when Swansea strolled through wide open spaces to punish Liverpool on the counter twice.

Pardew has vacillated between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 in his selections this season. The more difficult matches – at Chelsea, against United and Tottenham – saw the former: a front six of Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Tiote or Anita, Jonas; Ba, Cisse. In contrast, the front six against West Brom last weekend was: Perch, Cabaye, Jonas; Ameobi, Ba, Ben Arfa. Newcastle also used similar in a 2-2 draw at Everton six weeks ago, with Anita instead of Perch, Marveaux instead of Ameobi, and Cisse instead of Ba. Ba is questionable for tomorrow's match due to a calf injury incurred last Saturday, while Tiote will serve the second of a three-match ban after being sent off in the Tyne-Wear derby.

Since the beginning of the Premier League in 1992, Liverpool have a better home record against Newcastle than any other current top-flight club, scoring 45 goals in the 18 matches against the Geordies over the last two decades. The last seven league fixtures at Anfield, since 2004-05, have finished 3-1, 2-0, 2-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-1.

Past certainly doesn't equal precedent, especially this season, but this is a match that Liverpool often expects to win, no matter the side's respective forms. Let's ignore the fact that Liverpool's won just three of the 14 league matches at Anfield since the beginning of 2012, with last season's home win against tomorrow's opponent coming two days before the New Year. And it comes at a time when Liverpool desperately need points, with away matches at Chelsea, Swansea, and Tottenham to come later this month.

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