Reunions can be really awkward. On Wednesday night, a couple of ex-Liverpool players – Luis Suarez and Phillippe Coutinho played a key role in sealing (almost) Liverpool’s fate in the Champions League. On Saturday night, Liverpool will meet a few more exes. Rafa Benitez, Jonjo Shelvey and the forgotten Manquillo will await the Reds at St. James’ Park and hope to secure a point or three. If they do that, they will have sealed Liverpool’s fate in the Premier League as well.
Newcastle United are staying up. Their recent results, which included a draw against Brighton and wins against Southampton and Leicester have ensured that at 42 points, they are beyond the reach of both Cardiff and Brighton, who are slugging it out to avoid the last relegation place. But for their proud fans, staying up might not be enough. They will demand that their team make it tough for the two remaining opponents. Newcastle beat City earlier in the season and their fans will want that they hurt Liverpool’s title chances by a similar margin.
Despite playing some of the best football they have played in several years, Liverpool’s season hangs by two delicate threads. In the Champions League, Wednesday’s 3-0 thumping they received at Camp Nou, means that next Tuesday night’s return leg at Anfield is a must win by a three or four goal margin. But, given that the Premier League title race is still on, they cannot lose their guard on Saturday night too. Even if Liverpool do not pick up a single point more, they have already become the runners-up with the highest points tally in Premier League history. But, if they win those two games (and reach 97 points!!) and still come up second, that will be cruel but show us just how good this side is. But Jurgen Klopp cannot afford to dwell on such thoughts. He must rally his side and make sure they are focused on winning on Saturday night as no other result will do. The Reds will have to show the same ruthlessness they showed with Huddersfield.
For Newcastle United, Ayoze Perez might be a doubt as he was forced off in the first half against Brighton last weekend. Jamaal Lascelles will also be assessed, but Sean Longstaff, Florian Lejeune and Miguel Almiron all miss out. Former Red Javier Manquillo could keep his spot at right-back ahead of DeAndre Yedlin.
For Liverpool, Naby Keita pulled up with groin issue in the first half in Spain and could be out for a month. Adam Lallana is the only other injury concern that Klopp has. Roberto Firmino could only get in a cameo of the bench in Barcelona, but he should be starting the game at St. James’ Park.
- Newcastle have a good recent record against Liverpool at home. They have lost only one of their last seven home Premier League games against the Reds, winning four and drawing two. In fact, St. James’ Park is somewhat of a bogey ground for Liverpool, as they have lost 10 Premier League games there, fourth-highest after Old Trafford (16), Stamford Bridge (14), and White Hart Lane (12).
- But the Reds have won their last two Premier League games against Newcastle. However, they have not won three in a row against the Magpies since a run of four between November 2007 and May 2009.
- On top of that Newcastle have been doing well at home lately. They have won six of their last seven home Premier League games, netting at least twice in each victory. They also do well in May, having won last four home league matches in the month of May, scoring 13 and conceding just once.
- Despite the drubbing they received in Spain, the Reds are on their longest unbeaten run in the Premier League (15 games, W11D4). They have won their last seven Premier League matches, scoring 20 and conceding five.
- Rafa Benitez has faced Liverpool five times and has not yet registered a win, drawing thrice and losing twice. He has only faced Birmingham (8) more number of times without winning.
Rondon is Newcastle’s primary goal contributor. In the recent games, Ayoze Perez has been scoring more regularly and Rondon has not scored in the league since before the last international break, but his seven assists, two of which have come in the last two games are as valuable as his nine goals. His xG90 + xA90 of 0.45 (0.33 + 0.12) indicates almost a 50% chance of him contributing a goal if he plays 90 minutes.
Mohammed Salah will be castigating himself after missing out on scoring from an open goal against Barcelona on Wednesday night. But in the league, it is a different story. After going six games in the league without a goal, Salah has scored four in his last four games in the competition. His 21 goals and 8 assists in the league this season might not be enough for him to make it to the PFA Team of the Year, but they do make him one of the biggest attacking threats that Newcastle has seen this season. xG90 + xA90 of 0.80 (0.61 + 0.29) indicate an 80% likelihood of him contributing a goal if he plays 90 minutes. Given that he will be highly motivated, Benitez’s men will do well to be wary of him.
Newcastle have had a great record against the Reds at home. In the last such instance, Karius and Lovren combination had made one of their several mistakes of last season to grant them a draw. But this time around, it is going to be a far more determined and hungrier Liverpool that will visit Tyneside. Liverpool should get back to the top of the table, albeit possibly for only a couple of days, with a hard-fought win.
Newcastle United 0 – 2 Liverpool