02 March 2018

Liverpool v Newcastle 03.03.18

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (a) 10.01.17
2-2 (h) 04.23.16
0-2 Newcastle (a) 12.06.15
2-0 Liverpool (h) 04.13.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-1 West Ham (h); 5-0 Porto (a); 2-0 Southampton (a)
Newcastle: 2-2 Bournemouth (a); 1-0 United (h); 1-1 Palace (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 23; Firmino 13; Coutinho, Mané 7; Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Newcastle: Gayle 5; Joselu 4; Lascelles 3; Atsu, Ayoze, Clark, Diame 2; Hayden, Merino, Mitrovic, Murphy, Ritchie, Saivet 1

Referee: Graham Scott (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Henderson Wijnaldum
Salah Firmino Mané

We'll see more changes when Liverpool host Porto on Tuesday, thanks to the 5-0 aggregate scoreline. There will be fewer changes than you except – don't hold your breath on Ben Woodburn, for example – but more than there should be for tomorrow's match.

So, with an almost full complement of players, we get the usual lineup questions. Right-back: Alexander-Arnold, for the fourth successive match; Gomez; or maybe even Clyne, after completing 90 minutes with the u23s earlier this week? Center-back: Matip or Lovren? And who from Henderson, Can, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Lallana will start in midfield?

Emre Can is a yellow card away from a two-game suspension, and will be until he picks up one more card or we make it to April. Admittedly, the former seems much more likely. But I'd appreciate waiting until the United match for that to happen. So, unless Henderson's still dealing with those usual minor injuries, it should be Can as the deepest midfielder.

I'm also in favor of playing Wijnaldum – even though both Milner and Oxlade-Chamberlain have been better in the link role that Wijnaldum usually plays – simply because he'll be going against his former club. I am always in favor of playing players against the former club, unless that player's name rhymes with Lejan Dovren.

Which means Oxlade-Chamberlain, Milner, or Lallana for the other midfield spot. Let's guess Oxlade-Chamberlain – for his pressing, his running with the ball, his ability in tight spaces, as shown in the second half against West Ham. Milner – who's probably in the best form of any of Liverpool's midfielders (I know, right?!) – will be needed against Porto, in what'll probably be a younger side, while a 5-0 lead in a second leg also seems an okay time for Lallana's first start in ages.

Meanwhile, Newcastle. Unbeaten in their last four! A 1-0 win over Manchester United three weeks ago!

Both of those statements are true. Both of those statements need a little more explication.

Newcastle's last match, a 2-2 draw at Bournemouth, saw the hosts overturn a 2-0 deficit in the last ten minutes of the match. I mean, come on – who gives away a two-goal lead at Bournemouth? That 1-0 win against United required some amazing saves from Dubravka on his debut, as well as a fair few defensive blocks. A soft and unnecessary penalty led to the 1-1 draw with Palace, while the other was another 1-1 draw with free-falling Burnley.

Newcastle remain just one point and goal difference clear of the relegation zone, one of nine (!!!) teams currently between 24 and 27 points.

But that 1-0 win over United is probably the template. Deny, deny, deny. Then, set piece goal. Then more denials. For all the good Liverpool have done over the last few months, a match playing out in that manner remains the fear.

So my best guess is tomorrow's XI will look a lot like that XI. Dubravka; Yedlin, Lejeune, Lascelles, Dummett; Ritchie, Hayden, Diame, Kenedy; Ayoze; Gayle. The only difference is that Jonjo Shelvey is injured – and I'm still not sure whether that's a good or bad thing – as are Slimani and Gamez.

But Newcastle could play five at the back, which they've done in a handful of games this season, more often than not against "top" opposition, especially now that Ciaran Clark is back from injury. Newcastle will play whichever way that Benitez thinks will best limit Liverpool. If you hadn't heard, Rafa Benitez is pretty good at organizing his sides, at the absolute least.

And Liverpool haven't beaten Newcastle since Benitez took over, with two draws in the last two matches, preceded by a 2-0 loss at St. James Park when McClaren was manager. Newcastle remain one of two league sides that Klopp is yet to beat – along with Manchester United (in league matches only, obviously), who Liverpool will face in the subsequent league match.

As the United win is Newcastle's template, so is the last time these sides spoke. A 1-1 draw at St James' Park. A Liverpool opener swiftly followed by a Liverpool concession, featuring both a Liverpool mistake and Liverpool misfortune. And then an hour of frustratedly running into a brick wall, with Liverpool's worst shooting accuracy of the season

But that draw came amidst a run of similar matches. 2-2 Sevilla, 1-1 Burnley, 0-2 Leicester, 1-1 Spartak, 0-0 United. That was the shaky part of the season. This has not been the same Liverpool that we saw in September.

But that doesn't mean it can't happen again. That Bad Liverpool can't happen again. That Rafa Benitez can't happen again. That 1-1 Everton, 0-0 West Brom, 0-1 Swansea can't happen again.

It's been a fun few months with Liverpool scoring and Liverpool actually defending and then Liverpool scoring more and then more. It'd be fun if that continued, but Liverpool have to make it continue. Complacency is the enemy. And Newcastle are in the way.


Anonymous said...

As much as i love rafa i love liverpool more, so naturally i want the reds to win.

David Whitmore said...

I would rest a guy that rhymes with Malberto Boreno next time we play against Sevilla!