In terms of the coming Premier League weekend, the Manchester derby remains the jewel in the crown.
The Magpies have undergone a dramatic revival in form over the last few weeks, winning four of their last six fixtures, including a 2-0 Capital One Cup win over Manchester City in mid-week.
Liverpool, however, represent contrasting fortunes. Still yet to find a formula without last season’s PFA Player of the Year, Luis Suarez, they’re currently seventh in the table, with defeats to Aston Villa, West Ham and City, and are also fighting for their lives in Champions League group B.
Throw in the crazy world of Alan Pardew, and the even crazier world of Mario Balotelli, and you have a Premier League classic – filled with goals, action and controversy.
We at Football Fancast are all very excited – so excited in fact, we’ve listed the FIVE key individual battles that will decide the clash at St. James’s Park.
It’s been a while since Premier League defences have concerned themselves with Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse. Indeed, the Senegal striker bagged just ten goals throughout his last two Premier League campaigns – a far cry from the Papiss Cisse who once netted this incredible goal against Chelsea:
But the current season has witnessed a sudden revival in form from the 29 year-old, with four goals in as many Premier League outings – including this goal against Hull City:
He’s actually averaging one goal every 60 minutes in the Premier League.
Cisse’s missed the last few weeks with a knee injury and still remains a doubt for the Liverpool clash. But the direct contributor of 40% of the Magpies’ league goals this season, Alan Pardew will likely take the risk of rushing him back into the starting XI.
The Newcastle striker will be up against Liverpool centre-back duo Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel in his lone front-man role.
Both were amongst the best defenders in the Premier League last year and remain impressive on paper, but they’re still struggling to gel as a partnership and there will undoubtedly be moments when Cisse can exploit their lack of familiarity.
With Cheick Tiote sidelined until next weekend with a calf injury, according to The Physio Room, the likeminded Vurnon Anita looks set to retain his spot as Newcastle’s deepest-lying midfielder against Liverpool.
The Netherlands international didn’t have the best of afternoons against Spurs last Sunday, despite the Magpies coming away with a 2-1, and was subbed off at half-time to make way for a more attacking option.
But needs must and Newcastle won’t get anywhere against Liverpool unless they keep Raheem Sterling quiet. In the absence of Luis Suarez (now with Barcelona) and Daniel Sturridge (through injury), he’s been the Reds’ talisman this season:
In fact, he’s been one of the most proficient dribblers in the Premier League this season:
And one of its more potent creators:
Likely to retain his roaming No.10 role just behind the striker, Anita needs to assist his defence by keeping close tabs on the England international. Here’s some of his highlights so far this season:
Steven Gerrard hasn’t quite been at the races this season in comparison to last term:
And a number of sides this season – specifically Aston Villa and West Ham – have found great success in man-marking the former England international before exposing the space behind him on the counter-attack:
Playing Gerrard as a CDM every game is too predictable,just being marked out of the game
— Marco Ross (@Hanno_Hanley) October 1, 2014
Gerrard man marked out of game again. Downing today. Agbonlahor / Weimann last few times at Anfield. Basic.
— Ian Bennett (@irbenno) September 20, 2014
That appears to be the template of how to get results against Liverpool and one that Alan Pardew would be wise to follow.
Judging upon the Magpies’ recent domestic encounters, powerhouse Frenchman Moussa Sissokho will be up against Liverpool’s captain in an advanced midfield role role.
In terms of athleticism and strength, he has the ability to run Gerrard into the ground and exploit gaps behind him. The 25 year-old will be high in confidence too, having netted in Newcastle’s 2-0 victory over Manchester City in this week’s Capital One Cup fixture:
The start to Mario Balotelli’s Liverpool career has certainly been a troubling one.
He’s netted just two goals in twelve appearances for the Reds and appeared to infuriate virtually everybody on Merseyside when he swapped shirts with Real Madrid’s Pepe at half-time, amid a 3-0 defeat to the European champions.
There’s already rumours that he could be shipped back to Serie A in January. But the enigmatic Italian will be entering the Newcastle fixture with a revived confidence, after netting a dramatic equaliser in Liverpool’s mid-week Capital One Cup tie with Swansea:
The task of stopping him doing the same against the Magpies will fall to club captain Fabricio Coloccini.
He possesses the height, power and tenacity to deal with Balotelli’s 6 foot 2 frame. But potentially without regular centre-back partner Mike Williamson through injury, the Argentine will also have to communicate well and maintain organisation in a Newcastle defence that’s currently conceding, on average, 1.7 goals per match.
Call me mad. Call me an idiot. Call me a buffoon. But I think this might just be Gabriel Obertan’s season.
The French winger netted the winner against Leicester City a few weeks ago:
And was a vital offensive outlet for the Magpies amid their 2-0 romping of Manchester City, as shown below:
With the likes of Remy Cabella and Yoan Gouffran struggling for form, it’s likely Alan Pardew will feel compelled to trust in Obertan again on Saturday.
That will see him come up against Liverpool No.3 Alberto Moreno, who exploded onto the Premier League scene with this goal against Spurs back in September:
The Spain international hasn’t been up to much since but could have a real impact against Newcastle – Obertan isn’t the best defensively and at times will leave right-back Daryl Janmaat exposed.