This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
A trip to Anfield is never the most welcoming of prospects. Liverpool have turned their home ground into a fortress in recent years under the manic guidance of Jurgen Klopp. Their 100% win rate in the Premier League this season makes a clash against the Reds all the more daunting, and next opponents Newcastle will certainly have their work cut out.
But, the Magpies will be able to take courage from the last time they faced one of the league’s big six away from home. Steve Bruce’s side turned up in north London to face Tottenham, and did the proverbial ‘job’ on them to walk away with a priceless 1-0 victory earlier this season.
The match-winner that day? Joelinton. And if the Tyneside club plan on orchestrating another unlikely triumph on Saturday, then the striker’s battle with Ballon d’Or favourite Virgil van Dijk will be the key.
The two are imposing physical presences for their respective sides, and their match-up has all the hallmarks of a real throwback encounter. The Premier League has recently been dominated by the more nimble and mobile forwards like Sergio Aguero, Mohamed Salah and Raheem Sterling, so Joelinton’s arrival in English football has certainly added a different dimension. The 6 foot 1 star has sought to make his mark on opposition defences already, but he will face a stern test in van Dijk.
In his four appearances for his new club so far, Joelinton has notched up just the one goal – the winner against Spurs. But beyond that, the former Hoffenheim man has bought into Newcastle’s style of play. Against Mauricio Pochettino’s side, the Magpies sat back and soaked up the pressure before attempting to counter. Their summer signing was pivotal in holding the ball up and buying time, and has already registered an impressive 3.3 aerial duels won per game.
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Just as key will be the number of passes the Dutchman is able to make on Saturday. Averaging 65.8 passes per game, the 28-year-old’s range of passing is extraordinary, and it will be up to Newcastle’s striker to close him down and ensure he doesn’t have the time to pick out those trademark cross-field balls.
If Joelinton can impose his physical game on van Dijk and release the pressure of Liverpool’s inevitable onslaughts, then the Magpies stand every chance of potentially nicking a result against the Champions League winners. If van Dijk manages to bully him out of the game however, it could be a very long afternoon for both the Magpies centre-forward and the team as a whole.