With ten game weeks remaining the Premier League has entered the final lap of the season. Liverpool start this run of the last 10 games by hosting Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United at Anfield on Saturday evening. Both teams have a lot to play for, so we can expect an entertaining match.
With Manchester City running out clear winners, 2nd position is the maximum any other Premier League club can aspire to get, and Liverpool have a good shot at it. Liverpool are currently third in the league with 57 points, just 2 points behind Manchester United. Just like last weekend, Liverpool can attain the 2nd position in the league at least till Manchester United play Crystal Palace on Monday night. With a relatively easy tie against Porto coming up in the mid-week, Jurgen Klopp should not feel any pressure to rotate. He can afford to rotate during the Porto game. Furthermore, Anfield has proven to be a fortress this season, with the Reds’ only loss at home having come in the FA Cup. In the league, Liverpool are unbeaten at Anfield in 14 games. All the records and all the factors seem loaded against the Magpies.
Newcastle United’s return to the Premier League has not turned out to be very smooth. They sit 15th in the table but are just 2 points above the 18th placed Swansea. They have opened the scoring in each of their last four league games but have went on to win only once (Manchester United 1-0). Newcastle have the ninth-best defense in the league but they also have the fifth-worst attack in the league. This poses a challenge for Rafa Benitez, as although another draw at Anfield will not hurt him or Newcastle, but to get to a safer position in the table, the Magpies need to target a win and to do that they will need to defend heroically and make the best use of any opportunity that arises for them to score.
- In 174 matches with Newcastle United thus far, Liverpool have won 82 and lost 50, drawing the other 42 games. However, at Anfield, this is Liverpool’s second run of 21 unbeaten games versus the Magpies. The Reds last lost to Newcastle at Anfield in April 1994. Since then they have won 17 and drawn 4 games.
- Liverpool have also scored in each of these 21 home games against Newcastle United. If the Reds score on Saturday, they will set a Premier League record of most consecutive home games against a single opponent in which a team has scored at least one goal.
- However, Newcastle United are unbeaten in their last three games against Liverpool (1W, 2D). Rafa Benitez has managed three draws against Liverpool in the three games he has managed against them.
- Newcastle have just passed an unbeaten February in the Premier League. However, only one of the four league games they played resulted in a win (1-0 vs Manchester United at St. James’ Park).
Liverpool’s target of 2nd position in the league at the end of the campaign looks much more attainable if Mohamed Salah continues in his present vein of form till the end of the season. Salah has scored in each of his last six appearances for Liverpool in all competitions. He is the first to achieve feat since Daniel Sturridge did it in February 2014. The Egyptian winger has contributed 31 goals in the league (23 scored, 8 assisted). Only Robbie Fowler (33) and Luis Suarez (43) have contributed more to a Premier League campaign for Liverpool. While Suarez’s record might seem a bit out of reach but Fowler’s record is almost certain to be broken, as currently Salah is contributing at an xG of 0.81 goals per 90 minutes and xAssist of 0.27 goals per 90 minutes. This means that in current form, he is guaranteed to contribute at least one goal per 90 minutes of play.
Rafa’s penchant for strong defenses has led to very respectable 38 goals conceded in 28 games and the player responsible for adding steel to the Magpies’ defense is Jamaal Lascelles. A no-nonsense defender with 6.6 clearances per game, 0.8 blocks per game and 0.8 interceptions per game, the Liverpool frontline will have to go past Lascelles to get a shot at Newcastle’s goal. Not only is Lascelles a good defender, he is proving to be a handy goal scorer as well, especially in air. Lascelles has scored 3 goals in the league so far, all with the head.
For Liverpool, Nathaniel Clyne continues his recovery as he played for the Under-23s this week, however, it is unlikely that Klopp will rush him back Georginio Wijnaldum and Danny Ings were absent from the squad sheet last weekend but could return to the squad by Saturday. Jordan Henderson has struggled with injuries lately, so he is likely to be monitored.
For Newcastle, loan signing Islam Slimani is still not available to make his debut as he is injured for 2 weeks. Jonjo Shelvey who injured his knee in the last game is unavailable to take on his old club. Jesus Gamez is also likely to be out of the squad due to his injury. Dwight Gayle has a thigh strain like Slimani and will not feature at Anfield. Thus, Joselu will lead the line and possibly the returning Ciaran Clark can line up in a five-man defense.
Both Rafa Benitez and his team have had decent results whenever they have visited Anfield in the last couple of games. However, that run will likely end on Saturday as it is highly improbable for even a Lascelles-led defense to stop the Liverpool frontline from scoring a goal or two. Newcastle lack the firepower to reply adequately. Thus, Saturday’s game should be an easy win for Liverpool like the ones against Southampton and West Ham.
Liverpool 3 – 1 Newcastle