This is an iconic Premier League fixture which normally serves up entertainment and plenty of goals. Some would say that the 4-3 Liverpool victory over Newcastle in April 1996 was the best of match in the history of the league. Even the matches more recently have provided goals, none more so than Liverpool’s 6-0 win last season at St James’ Park, a day that Alan Pardew will want to forget. That match will motivate the Newcastle players for this weekend as they will not want to be in such an embarrassing position again.
Newcastle are coming into the game off the back of a 2-1 win against Cardiff before the International break which should have boosted the morale in the dressing room after two consecutive 3-2 losses against Hull and Everton. Pardew is still stressing the importance of finding consistency as his side can look great for a twenty minute spell before looking like relegation fodder for the next twenty minutes. This was particularly evident against Everton a few weeks ago. The Magpies have started their home campaign with a stutter after picking up only 4 points from a possible 9 against teams which they should really beat at St James’ Park.
Meanwhile their opponents have had a great start to the season lying in second place, behind Arsenal only on goals scored. They have had back to back wins in their last two matches against Sunderland and Crystal Palace but they will face a more difficult task on Saturday as playing at St James’ is always difficult for away sides. Liverpool are facing a similar situation to their opposition as they are also struggling for consistency within games. Their second half performances are a lot worse than their first half displays which has led to nervy finishes.
This match will be determined in the midfield areas as both sides have potent attackers while struggling to find consistency at the back. Liverpool’s strike-force Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge is the best in the league on current form which will worry Newcastle as their defence is extremely fragile conceding 7 in their last three matches. The home side also have an in form striker in the shape of Loic Remy who is second top scorer in the league, behind only Sturridge who has played more minutes so far this season.
Newcastle have managed to keep three clean sheets in their first four competitive matches at home (West Ham, Fulham and Leeds) this season. This suggests that the team are more comfortable defensively at St James’ Park.
Liverpool have only scored one second half goal this season. This will worry Brendan Rodgers as it shows that his side struggle to kill games off. They will need to improve their second half performances if they are to compete for the top four.
Yohan Cabaye will be critical for Newcastle this weekend after he has returned to his best in recent weeks. The second half fightback at Everton and the victory over Cardiff were both inspired by the Frenchman. He has been given more license so far this season which allows him to dictate play further up the field. This is the area that Cabaye is at his most dangerous. He is creating a chance every 44 minutes so far this season but I expect this to go down over the next couple of weeks as he is the Newcastle play-maker. Cabaye managed to reclaim his place in the France starting eleven over the International break which will motivate him to keep up his good form. The club’s vice captain is also very capable defensively which is crucial as Liverpool will have the majority of possession.
Liverpool’s key man is Suarez as he offers so much going forward. Some would argue he is the best player in the league and he will need to have a great season if Liverpool are to get into the top four. Since returning to the side he has scored three times in two games which is a goal every 60 minutes. If he keeps up his shooting accuracy (57%) and chance conversion (43%) he will finish as the league’s top scorer. He will no doubt get plenty of time on the ball in the Newcastle half on Saturday and he will cause lots of problems as he can create chances and score himself. Even more worryingly for Newcastle is that the Uruguayan didn’t play during the 6-0 Liverpool win last season. The added presence of Suarez promises another tough afternoon for the Newcastle defence.
Newcastle will be missing captain Fabricio Coloccini after he returned early from International duty with a knock. Pardew will be frustrated that his captain is missing this match as the Newcastle defence is already unpredictable and the Argentinian brings a sense of calm to the back line. Steven Taylor is likely to be available for selection after injury so he could be the man to replace Coloccini. While Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa will also be hoping he returns to the starting eleven with Coloccini missing. Massadio Haidara is also back after a lengthy injury. After being dropped at Cardiff, both Vurnon Anita and Hatem Ben Arfa will be pushing for a place back in the team. Jonas Gutierrez won’t feature this week after returning to Argentina for personal reasons.
Liverpool were boosted by the return of Philippe Coutinho, Glen Johnson, Joe Allen and Aly Cissokho to training this week. All of these could play some part on Saturday if Rodgers deems them fit enough. The in form striker pairing of Sturridge and Suarez will continue after dominating against Sunderland and Crystal Palace. It will be interesting to see if Rodgers continues playing 3 at the back as Newcastle carry a huge threat down both flanks. Moreover the potential return of right back Johnson may see the manager switch to a more orthodox back four.
I do think it will be an entertaining match with plenty of goals as both teams have a potent attacking force. I think if Liverpool play 3 at the back, they could be torn apart by the Newcastle wide men Ben Arfa and Remy. However if Coloccini does indeed miss the game, Newcastle’d defence will be extremely fragile which will play into the hands of Sturridge and Suarez. I think it will be a close match but Liverpool are the most likely winners.