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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Newcastle, 12.11.10

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Off to St. James' Park for the late Saturday kickoff.

And a lead-in that's going to be dominated by talk about the idiocy of Mike Ashley. Rightly so.

There's a brief yet significant detour prior to launching into the football, and it obviously involves the aforementioned idiocy. The dismissal of Chris Hughton, about whom I will not pretend to know more than I do, has been a surprising and upsetting revelation for most folks following Newcastle United and the Premier League. Likable, hard-working, and committed to his players and staff, Hughton seemed like a great fit for a club that was looking to establish itself back in the Premier League after some tough times.

A near-record points total in the Championship that led to promotion during last season's campaign and navigating the club to mid-table status this season, even after a disastrous November, seemed like big steps in the right direction. Unfortunately not so, and the firing of Hughton seemingly came out of nowhere. Even with the rumors starting back in October, it seemed a long shot that he would actually be removed.

But, time and again, we witness the damaging impact of idiots with power.

So enter Alan Pardew, brought in because of his wealth of experience (nevermind the quality of said experience), tasked with assuaging the worries of more than a few of his new players.

It'd be easy to assume that this all sets up very nicely for Liverpool, and it may play out that way, but there's still plenty worth taking note of in this Toon side. Nolan is likely to make his return after an ankle injury, and if available he'll look to link with Andy Carroll and Shola Ameobi up top and Jonas Gutierrez in the midfield. Plenty of fitness concerns for Pardew to sort through, though---Joey Barton, Danny Guthrie, and Steve Harper join Nolan on the "doubtful" list, while suspensions for Fabricio Coloccini and Martin Williamson make for a piecemeal back line.

Onto Liverpool:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?
2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?
3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Reina
Johnson Kyrgiakos Skrtel Konchesky
Kuyt Lucas Meireles Maxi
Ngog Torres

---Again, no fresh injury news, and it doesn't sound like anyone's wife is in danger of heading into labor any time soon. Steven Gerrard, Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, and Jay Spearing all continue to miss out through injury---as Noel mentioned, Gerrard had been a thought heading into tomorrow, but Hodgson has put that to bed.

---This is the same squad that I had predicted for the match with Aston Villa, and I don't know that many changes are needed. The conversation about Kuyt is becoming louder (and rightly so), but unless Hodgson's trust in Ryan Babel has grown to a level that outweighs the potential benefits of having Kuyt in the lineup, I think it's Kuyt again. At this point, I'm also willing to venture that Babel is just as likely to challenge for Ngog's role as he is Kuyt's---good point from Grubb a few days back about the impact that Babel has from the central area, so hopefully Roy's taking his cues from the Liverpool Offside about furthering relations with Australia.

---I posted Hodgson's thoughts about Raul Meireles and Lucas in the comments section of Noel's earlier post, and hopefully they hold true beyond tomorrow. With Gerrard out there's ostensibly no threat to seeing that pairing broken up, and there's little reason to even when Gerrard returns. I think for many of us, the decisions he makes in the midfield once all are back to full fitness will be a mighty good measuring stick.

2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?

Speaking of measuring sticks, Liverpool and Roy Hodgson take their process of rebirth on the road, which has been a tall task this season. Tottenham was encouraging, but there was no end product (in front of goal or as a result), and it was really the first time we've seen Liverpool put together a performance worthy of more than a point. As I mentioned earlier, it would seem like the opposition is setting Liverpool up nicely for a dominant performance, but there's nothing guaranteed. An assured away performance that earns all three points would start to move things in Hodgson's favor---not completely, but it'd at least be an indicator that things can change.

3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

For all the talk of having reservations about taking Newcastle's tumult for granted, I can't see anything other than three points for Liverpool. 3-1 to the good.

Tomorrow's another match that's covered live in the UK and the US---ESPN has it for British viewers, and those of us stateside can catch it on Fox Soccer Channel. Matchday thread up early in the day with links to streams for those who need to follow on the computer.

Hope you all enjoy your Friday---here's highlights of Liverpool's last visit to St. James' to tide you over.