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Last four head-to-head:
0-1 Newcastle (a) 11.01.15
2-1 Liverpool (h) 05.11.14
2-2 (a) 10.19.13
6-0 Liverpool (a) 04.27.13
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Blackburn (a); 1-4 Arsenal (a); 1-2 United (h)
Newcastle: 0-1 Sunderland (a); 1-2 Arsenal (h); 0-3 Everton (a)
Liverpool: Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling 6; Henderson 5; Coutinho, Lallana, Sturridge 4; Lambert, Markovic, Moreno 2; Balotelli, Borini, Can, Johnson, Skrtel 1
Newcastle: Cisse 11; Perez 5; Colback, Sissoko 3; Ameobi, Gouffran 2; Aarons, Cabella, Coloccini, Janmaat, Kemen, Obertan, S Taylor, Williamson 1
Referee: Lee Mason
Guess at a line-up:
Can Toure Lovren Moreno
Coutinho Sturridge Sterling
Wednesday added a wrinkle to what had become a surprisingly easy lineup guessing game.
Emre Can is back from suspension, but Skrtel's still banned for one more game and Sakho will be out for the next couple of weeks. So, will Liverpool revert to the 3-4-2-1 or persist with the 4-3-3 we saw at Blackburn?
Liverpool kept a clean sheet at Blackburn and Liverpool won, but neither came easily. Liverpool still struggled to put the ball in the net (or near the net, for that matter), and Liverpool allowed Blackburn far too many decent chances. But while Newcastle is certainly no Arsenal, Liverpool were even worse in the 3-4-2-1 with the makeshift back three, especially with Toure as the sweeper. Which is the main reason why I suspect that Liverpool will stick with the formation we saw midweek. But I write that without much conviction.
Emre Can, a 21-year-old central midfielder, has already played center-back, right wing-back, and right midfield this season. And I think he could do a job at right back in this formation: a more willing, more dangerous, stronger runner than Johnson was against Blackburn, also capable of dealing with Sammy Ameobi when Newcastle counter through pace and/or long balls. Whether Liverpool play four-at-the-back or three-at-the-back, the right (wing)back spot remains the hardest to fill.
There's also another alternative if Liverpool play four-at-the-back. Liverpool have the personnel to deploy a midfield diamond without changing the probable XI. Lucas (or Can, for that matter) at the base, Henderson and Allen as the shuttlers, Coutinho at the apex, Sterling and Sturridge up front.
If it's 3-4-2-1, it's an easier XI to predict. Can, Toure, and Lovren in defense; Moreno at left-wing back; Henderson and Allen or Lucas in midfield; Sterling and Coutinho behind Sturridge. The only question is the usual question: who plays right wing-back? It could be Johnson or Markovic or Ibe or Flanagan, the latter two both back in training after their respective injuries.
Newcastle, currently 13th, have arguably been the worst side in the division over the last two months, with one win, two draws, and five losses since the start of February. Only Hull – Liverpool's next opponent – have been comparably bad. And not only are Newcastle in terrible form, they'll be missing a ton of players as well. Tiote, Steven Taylor, Siem de Jong, Dummett, Haidara, and Aarons are all out injured. Cisse and Coloccini remain suspended. At least Janmaat should be fit after picking up a calf injury against Sunderland, while Jonas should be in line for a second start after missing a full year due to testicular cancer. 21-year-old midfielder, and 21-year old midfielder Abeid should be back from a month-long thigh injury.
Which means tomorrow's XI should look at lot like that which lost at Sunderland, which lost to Arsenal.Something like Krul; R Taylor, Janmaat, Williamson, Colback; Anita, Jonas; Cabella, Sissoko, Ameobi; Perez.
Coloccini's suspension along with the injuries to Dummett, Taylor, and Haidara means that Janmaat will probably be needed at center back, which means Ryan Taylor will be needed at right-back, which means Colback will be the stand-in left back again. Central midfield will be some combination of Anita, Abeid, Jonas, Gouffran, and Sissoko. Newcastle do have options in the front four – Ameobi, Gouffran, Cabella, Sissoko, Obertan, Riviere, and Perez – but none have made a position their own, with Newcastle scoring just two goals in the last five matches.
Newcastle have nothing but pride to play for. They're securely lower mid-table despite all the recent losses, seemingly just out of reach of relegation thanks to points accrued under Pardew. It's hard to see how they'll be up for tomorrow's match when they were unable to get up for a Northeast Derby against their fiercest rivals a week ago. And past seasons have followed a familiar script: Liverpool drop points they've no right to drop against Newcastle in one of the matches, then easily stroll past Newcastle in the other. It was most notable in 2012-13, a 6-0 win at St. James' Park in April after a disappointing 1-1 draw in November, but similar happened last season, Liverpool's last day 2-1 win a lot less close than the scoreline suggests, both teams clearing having nothing to play for.
Of course, little has come that easily for Liverpool this season.