Just when Newcastle United fans thought it couldn’t get much worse for the Premier League’s second-bottom side, they now prepare to face a Liverpool outfit who scored a whopping six times against Southampton during Wednesday night’s Capital One Cup action.
Indeed, recent form between the two clubs – who will meet at St. James’ Park on Sunday with kickoff at 4pm – couldn’t be more different.
The Magpies have taken just eight points from their last eleven Premier League outings, whilst the Reds are on a run of five straight wins across all competitions.
The recent history of this fixture doesn’t offer the Toon army much hope either; they’ve seen six red cards in their last six encounters with the Merseysiders, claiming a solitary win whilst losing thrice.
But anything is possible in the crazy world of the Premier League and like most matches, it could well come down to who dominates the key individual battles.
With that in mind, here are FIVE Football Fancast view as the most important…
Newcastle’s last win was inspired by a talismanic performance from understudy goalkeeper Rob Elliot, who made a series of top-class saves under relentless pressure to secure the Magpies a 1-0 win against Bournemouth.
Now facing a Liverpool side who netted six times in their last outing against Southampton, whilst sitting behind a Newcastle defence that received a five-goal pasting from Crystal Palace last weekend and have conceded the most goals of any Premier League team this season, a whopping 30, taking anything against the Reds will likely require similar heroics from Elliot on Sunday afternoon.
With the Magpies’ defensive performances verging upon abysmal this season, to the extent that they’ve conceded the most shots per match of any Premier League side with 16.9, the meet at St. James’ Park could well resemble the 29-year-old versus the entire Liverpool starting Xi for large periods.
Ayoze Perez has been one of the few bright sparks in the Newcastle squad this season, finding three goals and two assists in ten Premier League starts.
He boasts two classy feet and a knack for finding the net, and although few are betting against Liverpool for Sunday’s game, shaky centre-back Dejan Lovren represents a weak link the Spaniard can take advantage of.
Indeed, the Serbian international has looked a bit more self-assured since Jurgen Klopp took the managerial reigns from Brendan Rodgers in October. But he’s still a little lacklustre to say the least and Perez can certainly draw a mistake out of the 26-year-old if he applies enough pressure.
Liverpool have conceded on average a goal per game under Klopp – which shows there are weaknesses for Perez to capitalise on. An early goal would certainly shift momentum in Newcastle’s favour.
After making substitute outings during Liverpool’s last two domestic fixtures, captain Jordan Henderson looks set to return to the Reds’ starting Xi this weekend.
It’s a fantastic boost for the Merseysiders, who have been without their all-action, industrious central midfielder since mid-August.
The England international boasts energy and enthusiasm in abundance, and that’s what Newcastle will have to try and match as best as humanly possible on Sunday.
That task will predominantly fall to Jack Colback, a like-minded workhorse who should relish the challenge of overshadowing an English midfielder in the forefront of Roy Hodgson’s plans with Euro 2016 just around the corner.
The 26-year-old’s displays haven’t been as bad as some of his team-mates’ this season, but he’ll need to find a new level of performance against Liverpool.
Summer signing Georginio Wijnaldum has found himself splattered all across Newcastle’s midfield this season without making a huge impact in any position – barring an incredible four-goal display against Norwich City last month.
But the Netherlands international is a talented and cultured player and we could see some more evidence of that against Liverpool, who are likely to make it quite a technical game.
I’m taking a punt on the versatile midfielder starting as Newcastle’s No.10 on Sunday, which puts him directly up against Liverpool’s Lucas Levia.
The tough-tackling Brazilian’s importance to the Reds has continually increased since the start of last season and with Emre Can suspended, he’s certain to start against the Magpies as the midfield anchorman.
He’s been nothing short of formidable in that role since Jurgen Klopp took the helm, averaging 5.3 tackles, 2.2 interceptions and 1.1 created chances per match, so Wijnaldum will need to be at the top of his game.
After beginning his Anfield tenure amid a worrying injury crisis, Jurgen Klopp suddenly finds himself privy to an embarrassment of riches up front.
Daniel Sturridge bagged a brace upon his return to the starting line-up against Southampton in midweek and Belgium international Divock Origi went one step further by netting a hat-trick.
Likewise, Roberto Firmino scored in that shock 4-1 win over Manchester City and has proved tactically expedient as the Reds’ unorthodox striker, whilst Christian Benteke found the net during his last start against Bordeaux and his Premier League return of four-in-eleven is nothing to be sniffed for a target man whose height and power is so effective in bringing others into the game.
It’s Klopp’s only real selection dilemma ahead of Sunday’s game and something tells me we’ll see at least one of the aforementioned deployed as a winger, purely out of respect for their recent form.
But whoever is picked to lead the line will certainly fancy their chances against Newcastle’s ageing centre-back Fabricio Coloccinio, who has been nothing short of woeful at the heart of the Magpies’ defence this season.
If the home side are to get anything out of Sunday’s game, the Argentine must show the level of experience and leadership you’d expect from a 33-year-old captain who has been at St. James’ Park for almost eight years.
Another sloppy showing like the one against Crystal Palace last weekend, and Liverpool could accumulate a cricket score.