No team this season, suprisingly not even my beloved Reds, has been devastated by injuries as much as Newcastle. At one point, they had 11 players out and even now they have 10 unavailable for Saturday's match, among then Michael Owen, Emre, and Shay Given. Even with that kind of setback they have slowly been crawling their way up the table, finally breaking into the upper half two weeks ago. All season long it seems a certain player steps up for them, be it Obafemi Martins, Antoine Sibierski, Noberto Solano, Nicky Butt, or more recently, James Milner. They're also undefeated in their last 9 at St. James Park, which includes a 2-2 draw with Man U on New Year's Day.
Their form at home is what worries me. Sure, we've appeared to have gotten over the road jitters, winning four of five in recent road ties, but look who we've played in that stretch: West Ham, Watford, Tottenham, Bolton, and Charlton. We lost at Bolton, Tottenham sits a spot below Newcastle at 11th, and three of the other four will most likely be relegated at the end of the season. Earlier this campaign at Anfield, we beat the Magpies 2-0 behind Kuyt's first goal in a Liverpool kit and Xabi Alonso's second career goal from his own half. (The only player in modern history to do so, I might add.) Here's the problem, Xabi's suspended for collecting too many yellow cards, which means that, not only will we not have one of our best overall players, but injuries have depleted our central midfield as it is. 'Luckily' for us though, Zenden is definitely fit, playing in the last reserves match, and Sissoko is more than likely back, though knowing Rafa he won't play Momo as a precautionary measure. Would be grand if those lazy asses at the FA would approve Mascherano, now wouldn't it?
I love to take stabs at who Benitez will play come gametime, mainly because I like to be bemused. 'In Rafa we Trust' is more than just a saying after all. No matter what, we appear to match up quite well with the Toon, as long as we can contain Milner and Martins, a draw, in the least, is forseeable, but we need/want a win. We have to finish at least third, ahead of Arsenal, and as long as John Terry is out, second is still feasible. You'd figure Rafa would play Kuyt and Bellamy up front and rest Crouch since Crouchy was the only one to play his full international match while Bellamy had an extra day of rest. You figure he'd also play Zenden beside Stevie G, since he's the only other 'fit' (and eligible, ahem) central midfielder. You figure he'd play Agger, Carra, Riise, and Finnan in the back. You could figure a lot of things, but one thing I've learned from the past, Rafa's football tactics are on a whole other level. He could come out with Craig Lindfield at Striker, Kuyt playing beside Gerrard in the middle, and Hyypia and Arbeloa as central midfielders, and all you could say is, 'Well, that's Rafa for ya.'
I'd like to see Sissoko play instead of Zenden, Momo's (obviously) the better player, plus I think he'll be amped to go. I'd also like to see the new Spaniard, Arbeloa, though I hope not at the expense of Agger. No matter what, for Liverpool to win this, I think Pennant is going to have maintain the form he displayed throughout January. He's finally looking worthy of his transfer fee. Sometimes it seems he has a telepathic connection with Dirk, but also makes stunning crosses and passes to Stevie G, Bellamy, and Peter Crouch. Not to mention his ball control is on point. I rarely worry when it's in his possession. If Gonzalez starts, and I think he will, I hope he doesn't try too hard and turn over the ball too many times. I tend not to worry about our defense, because as long as Pepe's back there, the only way the opposition seems able to score is if the refs blow a call (*cough* West Ham *cough*). It's no coincidence that we have allowed the least goals and Pepe's got the most clean sheets.
After last week's fiasco, I hope our boys come out with a little chip on their shoulder. We should be able to score, I just hope we continue our shut-down defensive ways. Though I'm not that confident, I'll say Newcastle 1, Liverpool 2. I would love to see Pennant score again.