Sweet, sweet relief for Liverpool as the international break ends and they resume league play with added depth, joint-top of the table on points, and a feeling of cautious optimism as winter approaches. It's going to be teeth-grinding stuff from here on out; Liverpool's spot in the table means we're going to be preparing for disaster every single time they take the pitch, and whether or not it ends up happening, we'll probably do it all over again the next time. Fun stuff, huh?
But that optimism's still a real thing, and it's got a fairly solid foundation beneath it. Today's news of the six-week layoff for Iago Aspas is a minor blow, but the returnees add both depth and quality to a squad that's already ticking a number of boxes, and the belief we've heard so much about this season appears to be strengthening. As always, though, belief needs to translate into action if it's going to stick around.
So the teeth gnashing continues tomorrow at St. James' Park, where Newcastle await with hopes of getting consecutive league wins for the second time this season. They earned a close 2-1 win at Cardiff just before the international break after a strong second-half showing at Everton, and they'll be hopeful of carrying momentum through the weekend and into next week's Tyne-Wear derby after starting the season slowly.
They'll have to do so without a number of key names, however, as Alan Pardew will be without Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez, with Steven Taylor a major doubt as well. The absences of Coloccini and Taylor would force Pardew to pair Mike Williamson and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa in front of Tim Krul in goal. Mathieu Debuchy and Davide Santon will likely start as the fullbacks, with three from Yohan Cabaye, Mussa Sissoko, Yoann Gouffran, Cheik Tiote, and Vernon Anita in midfield, and Hatem Ben Arfa, Loic Remy, and Papiss Cisse leading the attack.
Toure Sakho Agger
Henderson Gerrard Lucas Enrique
Iago Aspas, Philippe Coutinho, and Sebastian Coates are out through injury, with Coutinho expected to be back in contention over the next few weeks. Lucas is back from his one-match suspension, joining the trio of Aly Cissokho, Glen Johnson, and Joe Allen that Brendan Rodgers declared fit yesterday.
Daniel Agger is ready to go, as evidenced by his 180-plus minutes for Denmark over the last week, and while it may be hard to see Rodgers shaking things up too much after the displays put in by Kolo Toure, Martin Skrtel, and Mamadou Sakho, Agger's first-choice when he's fit, full stop. Plus, if there is a change to be made--other than the formation, which I don't think is likely--I'm guessing it'll be a straight swap between Agger and Skrtel; Toure provides the leadership, Sakho is the business, and Skrtel's future is the most tenuous.
Having Glen Johnson back is going to be awfully nice, and I think we'll start to reap those benefits against West Brom at Anfield next weekend. Maybe a nice twenty minute run-out tomorrow, but otherwise I think it will be Jordan Henderson's swan song as a right wingback with Jose Enrique on the other side of a Steven Gerrard and Lucas midfield. This should be the last time we get this personnel, and hopefully Johnson's inclusion doesn't mean we go without Henderson. Bonus if we get to see Joe Allen back for a substitute appearance.
The front three should remain the same as well unless Rodgers springs a surprise with Luis Alberto or one of Henderson or Allen, with Victor Moses as a makeshift number ten and interchanging with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. The latter pair aren't going anywhere, and until Philippe Coutinho is back, Moses is probably going to be the one providing the support.
Kickoff tomorrow is set for 12:45PM BST/7:45AM EST, with NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra carrying coverage in the US and BT Sport airing the match live in England. We'll have the overnight open thread up tonight and the matchday post a few hours ahead of the start time, and that will have the team sheets included an hour before things get going. Hope you'll be around to join us wherever you are, and that we'll be able to enjoy a bright start to the weekend.