NEWCASTLE UNITED VS. LIVERPOOL
| Saturday, February 18th |
Premier League | St James’ Park
5:30PM GMT/12:30PM EST
Last time Newcastle United faced Liverpool, manager Eddie Howe’s strategically assembled side was flying high — and yet they approached the match at Anfield aiming to frustrate, with time wasting tactics evident from out the gate.
This time is a bit different: Newcastle have had a disappointing run in comparison to their previous high-flying form, drawing with Bournemouth last weekend and with West Ham the weekend before. They beat Southampton in the EFL Cup semi-finals over two legs after a 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace. Their last win in the league came a month ago against Fulham (1-0 at home, and Aleksandar Mitrovic missed a penalty for Fulham); indeed, their last strong performance in the league was their 2-0 win against a then-struggling Leicester City on January 10th.
Put differently, though Newcastle haven’t been struggling outright, their once high aims have been tempered into a fight for top four — with a tantalizing EFL Cup final thrown in (against Manchester United on February 26th).
Given this context, Howe’s tactical approach is an interesting proposition. Given how he has faced strong (on paper, if not on the table) teams throughout this season, Liverpool can probably be safe in expecting a frustrating night on Tyneside — certainly in terms of the Magpies’ defensive record at Saint James’ Park: they’ve conceded just seven goals at home in all competitions (though have only faced two teams in the so-called big six, Manchester City and Chelsea, and the former are responsible for three of the total). Their home record in all competitions? Played 15, won 9, drawn 6, lost 0. Liverpool hope to hand Newcastle their first home loss of the season in all competitions (City’s aforementioned three goals came in a thrilling 3-3 draw).
In terms of injuries, there’s bad news for the Reds: Miguel Almirón and Allan Saint-Maximin are both back in training and “fine” ahead of the match, and though Callum Wilson has not been training, he is expected to be fit after a minor issue. Saturday might come a bit too soon for Joe Willock, who will have a late fitness test, and it’s probably a bit too soon for Matt Targett.
Predicted Liverpool Lineup (4-3-3)
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Bajčetić; Salah, Jota, Núñez
The Liverpool squad are quietly and slowly becoming whole again, with players returning from injury. Virgil Van Dijk, who was on the bench Monday against Everton, is “absolutely ready” to start — though it’s possible he could come on as a planned sub as he regains fitness ahead of Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Both Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino got some minutes off the bench on Monday night, and both could be in to start against Newcastle — head coach Jürgen Klopp finally has a decision to make amongst fit attackers, with Mohamed Salah, Darwin Núñez, Cody Gakpo, Jota, and Firmino all fit. There is also a set of attacking talent able to play in a number of attacking positions beyond the main front option, including especially Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho (who Klopp notes has not made recent squads due to a desire for different skillsets).
The midfield offers choice as well, though one might hope that Klopp rewards Stefan Bajčetić for an ovation-worthy performance in the derby. The teenager performed with confidence and skill despite playing in a new position — and Fabinho, too, quietly looked more himself. While Klopp might look to rotate here, but conversely some consistency in the middle of the park would be an asset in the coming fixture calendar.
Liverpool do not come into this match with any new injuries, though Calvin Ramsay is out for the season with his, and Luis Díaz is not quite back to fitness.
What the Managers Had to Say
Jurgen Klopp: “Eddie [Howe] is doing an absolutely exceptional job. The financial possibilities they will have in the future are exceptional but it [their success now] is not because of that. They built on the team they had.”
Eddie Howe: “I wouldn’t say we owe Liverpool one. We owe ourselves to do our best in this game and to do everything in our power to try and win the match. I’m reluctant to use [the defeat against] Liverpool as motivation for us—we shouldn’t need that. It should come from ourselves. Liverpool will provide a different test than we’ve had in recent weeks. They’re still a top team with an outstanding manager so we know the task is a huge one this weekend.”
Referee: Anthony Taylor Assistants: Gary Beswick, Adam Nunn Fourth Official: Craig Pawson VAR: Chris Kavanagh Assistant VAR: Simon Long
Kickoff is set for 3PM GMT/10AM EST tomorrow. Stick with The Liverpool Offside team to keep yourself up to date with team news and match buildup, live updates, and post-match reaction. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account and have your say on the action as it happens.