The first international break of the season is over and the Premier League teams are getting ready for a hectic rest of September. Those playing in Europe – like Liverpool – will be playing five games in the last 16 days of September, while those not in Europe – like Newcastle United – will be playing four in the same time. The first of these is on this Saturday at lunchtime, as Liverpool will host Newcastle at Anfield. It will be a meeting with two clubs at two ends of the Premier League table and also of two managers who are perceived very differently by their respective fans.
Jurgen Klopp, revered even before winning his sixth Champions League title, has written his name in Anfield folklore. For him, the challenge for this game will be to rotate his squad and to keep them fresh for the trip to Naples on Tuesday night. He must have been happy that some of the key members such as Salah, Mane and Milner were not called up during the international break. However, he will also need to rest players such as Firmino, Fabinho, Trent-Alexander Arnold, and Henderson as they were playing internationals until Wednesday morning UK time. However, rotation or no rotation, Liverpool are the league leaders with 4 wins in 4 games and will want to make it 5 in 5 on Saturday.
For Steve Bruce, the challenge is of a completely different kind. He has replaced a well-liked Rafa Benitez and he must work to make himself as well-liked. He has started well enough, winning at Tottenham before drawing against Watford at home. Newcastle sit in the 14th position with those 4 points and are looking to add to that tally. A defensive low-block tactic is likely from Steve Bruce, meaning 5 at the back. He used that to stump Pochettino but it might prove unsuccessful against the Reds.
- Anfield is a fortress for most visiting teams, but especially so for Newcastle. The Reds are unbeaten in their last 23 Premier League home games against the Magpies (W19 D4), scoring in every single one of those games (58 goals), while keeping 12 clean sheets.
- Liverpool also scoring against Newcastle – they have scored 98 Premier League goals against the visitors. They could become the first team to score 100 goals against a single opponent in Premier League history against a side that has not been ever-present.
- But Newcastle too have a reason or two to be hopeful. They were the second side to defeat Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in the Premier League in December 2015. Since then, they have drawn two and lost three of their top flight meetings with the Reds.
- The Magpies are in pretty good away form as well. They have won three of their last five Premier League away games (D1 L1), as many as they had won in the previous 24 games on the road (W3 D9 L12).
- But the league leaders Liverpool are in a different league of form themselves. They are looking to become the fourth team to win 14 consecutive English top-flight matches, after Arsenal (2002) and Man City (twice – in 2017 and 2019). They are also looking to win their opening five Premier League matches of a season for a second consecutive time, having already achieved the feat in 2018-19.
After throwing that tantrum at Turf Moor that resulted in Mohammed Salah being called “obsessed”, and after being well-rested during the international break as Senegal did not play any games, Sadio Mane will be fresh and looking to prove that he is a goal scorer. He has already played 50 games at Anfield (49 as a Red) without losing even once. He will be looking to continue that streak. His xG90 of 0.32 and xA90 of 0.42 are pretty good (a 74 percent probability of him contributing a goal if he plays 90 minutes), but he will definitely be looking to improve both of those metrics. In Mane, Newcastle will face a highly motivated threat who is looking to improve.
Joelinton was the hero and the lone goal scorer when Newcastle beat Spurs at the new White Hart Lane earlier in the season. Although that is the only goal the Brazilian has scored, his balance, physicality and touch are pretty good and suit the defensive 5-4-1 that Steve Bruce is expected to play. His xG90 of 0.23 and xA90 of 0.07 are not exceptional but in line with the overall low-scoring nature of Newcastle. Liverpool will be wary of the Brazzilian.
For Liverpool, the injury list is not long. Only three players – Alisson, Clyne and Keita are sidelined. Of these, Keita could feature after a late fitness test. However, if Klopp wants to rest his international returnees a bit, this is the only opportunity before a burst of Champions League, Premier League and League Cup games. Due to this, it is very likely that Klopp will rotate his squad a bit at least. Possible Liverpool starting lineup for Saturday: Adrian; Gomez, Matip, van Dijk, Milner; Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Lallana, Wijnaldum; Salah, Mane, Origi.
For Newcastle, current injuries are a bigger problem than fixture congestion. Dwight Gayle and DeAndre Yedlin are the closest to returning for the Magpies, but the trip to Anfield could be too soon for the pair. While the former red Shelvey will be available, another former Red Andy Carroll will miss out on a reunion with the Reds. Likely Newcastle lineup for Saturday: Dubravka; Krafth, Schar, Lascelles, Dummett, Willems; Almiron, Hayden, Longstaff, Atsu; Joelinton.
The wide gulf of quality between the two sides, the Anfield atmosphere and well-rested forwards could give Liverpool the edge to win easily on Saturday.
Liverpool 3 – 0 Newcastle United