Liverpool vs Newcastle
| Wednesday, December 26th |
Premier League | Anfield
3PM BST / 10AM EST
Liverpool legend Roy Hodgson came through in the clutch on Sunday, as the Malmö and Neuchatel luminary guided his Crystal Palace side to a famous 3-2 win over the Reds’ closest rivals, allowing Jürgen Klopp’s men to open up a four-point gap between themselves and Manchester City.
Now, the Merseysiders will attempt to maintain their lead, as they host former manager Rafa Benitez and his Newcastle on Boxing Day. Rafa’s tenure on Tyneside has predictably been riddled with ownership drama, as Mike Ashley continues to provide any sort of significant financial backing to the club he owns and purports to love. As a result, the Magpies have been unable to build on last season’s tenth-place finish, turning a £10m profit in the transfer market while seeing their performances drop due to a lack of quality up front.
Rafa’s charges have only scored 14 goals in 18 matches this season, and while Salomón Rondón can always be a handful for defenders with his physicality, neither Joselu or Ayoze Pérez should fill Liverpool’s centre-backs with any sort of dread. The Anfield return of cult hero and grass-accuser Jonjo Shelvey should, if nothing else, be good for some entertaining moments of either majesty or madness.
At the back, Newcastle have shown themselves capable of stinginess, boasting the 7th best defensive record in the league, and they rarely get blown out — losing by two or more goals only twice this season — but the sheer amount of possession they allow the opposition means their defense will always be under a certain level of pressure.
Projected Liverpool Lineup (4-3-1-2)
Alisson; Clyne, Lovren, Van Dijk, Moreno; Wijnaldum, Keïta, Milner; Shaqiri; Sturridge, Salah
As a home date with Arsenal and a trip to the Etihad beckons, this fixture offers Jürgen Klopp his best opportunity to rotate the squad during the holiday schedule, and it is likely that returns to the starting XI for Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno are on the table. Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk remain the Reds’ only healthy centre-back options and will start again, while Georginio Wijnaldum could return to the single-pivot in midfield.
Ball progression and final pass threat will be key on Wednesday, and all three of James Milner, Naby Keïta and Xherdan Shaqiri should be on the pitch to ensure it, while at least one of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino will likely be given a rest, opening up the door for Daniel Sturridge to make another start.
What the Managers Said
Jürgen Klopp: “I knew the Wolverhampton game was a big challenge for us, because playing against United and winning, and before that against Napoli – big stages – and then going to Wolverhampton, not only in players’ minds but in people’s minds it could drop focus a little bit.
So I was really, really happy when I saw the attitude we had for that game. That’s what we need: stay angry, stay greedy, stay really in the job. That’s what we have to do against Newcastle again.”
Rafa Benitez: “It’s important to have the squad available, it’s important to have everybody concentrated and focused because maybe some will not play this game, but they may be needed for the next one.
I have to be sure that everybody is ready because that is the key during these busy periods.”
Referee: Graham Scott
Assistant referees: Eddie Smart, Marc Perry
Fourth official: Lee Mason
Kickoff is set for 3PM GMT/10AM EST tomorrow, and television listings for the match can be found on LiveSoccerTV.
In the meantime, and as always, we’ll be keeping you updated with all the buildup to the game, including team news as it’s released, our live matchday thread, and post-match recaps from The Liverpool Offside staff. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account to have your say on the action as it happens.