Liverpool will aim to ensure their place atop the Premier League table at the end of 2018 when they welcome Newcastle United to Anfield on Wednesday
The busy festive period will continue with the tradition Boxing Day round of fixtures, as the Premier League season reaches its halfway mark with Gameweek 19. One of the earlier matches of the day will see Liverpool playing hosts to Newcastle United, hoping to consolidate their place at the top of the table.
Liverpool, who have largely built their reputation as an irresistibly attacking side under Jurgen Klopp, have constructed this season’s title challenging campaign on the back of a solid defence. Indeed, the Reds boast the meanest defensive unit in the English top-flight, having conceded just seven times thus far – the next best defence has let in almost twice as many goals.
On the other end of the pitch, Klopp’s men are only the third most prolific side in the league, often struggling to thwart opponents away like they had done last season. Their visitors on Wednesday, are much like Liverpool, but are competing on the other end of the table, battling to escape relegation yet again.
But, the fact that only six outfits have conceded fewer goals than the 22 that Newcastle United have let in this season. Having considered that, the Magpies’ lowly position on the Premier League table points towards a largely incompetent attack, with Rafael Benitez’s charges managing to find the back of the net just 14 times.
The corresponding fixture last season had ended in a 2-0 win for Liverpool, with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane delivering the goods against Newcastle. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Premier League encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Jurgen Klopp has received a mix of good and bad news on the injury front since his side’s 2-0 win over Wolves this past weekend. Against Newcastle United on Wednesday, the Liverpool boss could be without as many as four first-team players, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being the long-term absentee among these.
The good news though, is that Trent Alexander-Arnold is set to be available, after missing the last two games due to a foot injury. However, with the crunch game against Arsenal beckoning this weekend, the young Englishman is likely to be held back, especially with Nathaniel Clyne also at Klopp’s disposal.
There are two more absentees in the defensive unit, with Joel Matip (shoulder) and Joe Gomez (foot), with both players slated for a return next month. In the absence of the two centre-backs, Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk will continue at the heart of the Liverpool defence.
The backline should be completed by Alberto Moreno, with Andrew Robertson expected to be rested, keeping the Arsenal game in mind. Up ahead in midfield, Jordan Henderson is likely to make way for Georginio Wijnaldum, with Fabinho being his partner in the double pivot.
The attacking lineup though, should see some shuffles, with Mohamed Salah expected to be rested. Sadio Mane might be up for a rest as well, but could feature before being taken off early if Liverpool are comfortably ahead of Newcastle. The other spots upfront should be taken by Xherdan Shaqiri, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Alisson; Clyne, Lovren, van Dijk, Moreno; Wijnaldum, Fabinho; Shaqiri, Firmino, Mane; Sturridge
Rafael Benitez is a modern day Liverpool legend, and will forever be fondly remembered for his exploits while at the helm at Anfield. But, when he returns to Anfield as the Newcastle United boss yet again, he will have quite an uphill task on his hands, with his side being inferior in every department.
To add to his woes, he could also be missing his team’s most vital cog, the player who pulls the strings from the middle of the park, Jonjo Shelvey, with the former Liverpool man struggling to recover from a thigh strain. Adding salt to Benitez’s wound, will be the absence of Ki Sung-yueng.
The former Swansea City midfielder has been growing in stature at Tyneside in recent weeks, but could be set to miss over a month of action, if South Korea reach the final of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. The likes of Ciaran Clark (ankle), Florian Lejeune (match fitness) and Karl Darlow (elbow) are other players dealing with minor issues.
Benitez though, now has to bank on Mohamed Diame and Isaac Hayden to shore up midfield, with Kenedy and Matt Ritchie supplying the firepower to in-form striker Salomon Rondon. However, it is the Newcastle backline that will play the major role in determining the result on Wednesday.
Set to employ a back five, the likes of Fabian Schar, Federico Fernandez and captain Jamaal Lascelles will aim to keep things tight at the back, hoping to kill off the space for the Liverpool attacker to exploit. The full-backs should be Paul Dummett and former Liverpool defender Javier Manquillo, with Martin Dubravka having a colossal task at hand in the Newcastle goal.
Probable Lineup (5-4-1): Dubravka; Manquillo, Fernandez, Lascelles, Schar, Dummett; Ritchie, Diame, Hayden, Kenedy; Rondon
1. Newcastle Asian Handicap +2.5 @ 1.650
2. Under 3.5 Match Goals @ 1.66
1. Under 1.5 Liverpool goals @ 4.00
- Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 22 home games against Newcastle United in all competitions (W18 D4), with their last such defeat coming in November 1995 in the League Cup (0-1).
- Liverpool haven’t lost a home league game on Boxing Day since 1986-87 (0-1 vs Manchester United), winning eight and drawing three since then.
- Only Huddersfield Town have scored fewer Premier League goals this season than Newcastle United’s 14.
- Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez is winless in his three away games at Anfield against his former club Liverpool (D2 L1), losing 0-2 in this fixture last season.
- Daniel Sturridge has been directly involved in eight goals in his last nine games against Newcastle in the Premier League (seven goals and one assist).
Player to Watch
Having gone under the radar upon joining Liverpool for a paltry £13 million in the summer, Shaqiri has quickly become a fan favourite at Anfield, on the back of a number of game changing performance in just half a season at the Merseyside club.
One such performance came in his last outing, a brilliant cameo against Manchester United that went on to highlight his big-game pedigree. And, with the crucial game against Arsenal mere days away, the Swiss superstar now has the chance to show Jurgen Klopp why he deserves to feature from the get-go on the weekend.
With a game changing performance, Shaqiri also has the chance to stake claim towards becoming the rightful member of the erstwhile “Fab Four”, taking Philippe Coutinho’s place in the group.
Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle United
Rafael Benitez continues to become increasingly discontent at Newcastle United, with his side failing to conform to his standards, while owner Mike Ashley’s frugal ways have left him even more frustrated. One department that he can bank on is defence.
The former Liverpool boss will hope his side can at least contain the Reds, because they do not look like they can even get near the Liverpool goal at this moment, let alone finding the back of the net at Anfield. The hosts, on the other hand, will aim to wrap up the game quickly, so as to save their energy for the game against Arsenal.
Jurgen Klopp will hope Mohamed Salah is not needed at all, if the Egyptian is indeed rested, and that the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino also get an early rest. All signs point towards a rather comfortable Liverpool win, despite the fixture pile-up, a result that will ensure the Reds’ place atop the table before the turn of the year, with a game yet to be played.