Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 7/10
In one of the most intriguing Premier League matches this weekend, Newcastle will be playing host to Liverpool at St. James Park on Saturday afternoon. It’ll be the 23rd game of the campaign for the home team, 22nd for the visitors, and both have a big point to prove.
Since their change of ownership, concluded in October, 2021, Newcastle have been gradually building a formidable squad, not spending too much money at once, but hitting the mark with every signing so far. It was not that long ago when they were desperately fighting for survival in the English top flight; now they’re aiming to qualify for the Champions League, and the feeling is that they might start shooting for the title very soon.
At the moment, the Magpies sit in fourth place with 41 points, five less than Manchester United in third and two more than Tottenham Hotspur in fifth, though they have a game in hand on both.
However, the recent form of Eddie Howe’s team doesn’t look too promising. They beat Fulham 1-0 at home played a goalless draw away to Crystal Palace, before doing a double on Southampton in the semifinal of the Carabao Cup, 0-1 at St. Mary’s and 2-1 at St. James Park. They followed that up with a pair of 1-1 draws, at home against West Ham and away to Bournemouth.
Having booked a place in the cup final at Wembley, where they’ll face Manchester United next week, Newcastle will surely have one eye on the trophy and that could put this match against Liverpool slightly lower on their list of priorities right now. On the other hand, the fact that Liverpool remain to this day the only team to have beaten them in the Premier League this season will also be burning in the back of their minds, and they will feel there’s a score to be settled against the Merseysiders too.
The biggest blow for Howe’s team ahead of this clash is the suspension of midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, arguably the best player at the club since his arrival in January last year. The Brazilian picked up a straight red card in the second match against Southampton, and this one is the third and last he’ll miss because of it.
Defenders Emil Krafth (ACL), Javi Manquillo (unspecified) and Matt Target (ankle), and midfielder Joe Willock (hamstring) are also absent, while striker Callum Wilson (hamstring) is a doubt. The good news for the Magpies is that attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron (wrist) and winger Allan Saint-Maximin (knee) have recovered and should be in contention.
With Nick Pope in goal, centre-backs Fabian Schar and Sven Botman will be flanked by Kieran Trippier on the right and Dan Burn on the left. Almiron should go straight into the starting XI and join Sean Longstaff and Joelinton in the middle of the park, with striker Alexander Isak supported from wide positions by Saint-Maximin and former Everton man Anthony Gordon.
Speaking of points to prove, arguably no team in the Premier League has a bigger one than Liverpool. They are the team that came within an inch of unprecedented glory last term, winning both domestic cups, missing out on the Premier League title by a single point and losing the Champions League final by the narrowest of margins. They are also a team that has had a thoroughly underwhelming season so far; looking dejected and bereft of will and energy for the most of its course.
Consequently, Liverpool are nowhere near the top of the table and as things stand, it seems they’ll be lucky if they manage to qualify for any of the European competitions next term. Sitting ninth with 32 points, they trail Newcastle by nine, Spurs by seven, Brighton and Fulham by three, and Brentford by two, though they have a game (or two) in hand on all of those teams except Brighton. A win at St. James Park would obviously open all sorts of possibilities for Jurgen Klopp’s men; even the top four would appear withing the realms of possibility.
But Liverpool’s recent form hasn’t been good either. Their last-six run in all competitions consists of a 3-0 defeat away to Brighton, a 0-1 win away to Wolves in the FA Cup, a goalless draw at home against Chelsea, a 2-1 defeat away to Brighton in the FA Cup, a 3-0 defeat away to Wolves in the league, and a 2-0 win over Everton in the Merseyside Derby at Anfield earlier this week.
It should also be said that Liverpool face Real Madrid at home in the first leg of their clash in the Champions League round of 16 just three days after the Newcastle trip.
In a huge boost for Klopp’s ranks, defender Virgil van Dijk, as well as forwards Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota, returned to action against Everton and remain in contention.
The list of absentees includes winger Luis Diaz (knee), midfielders Thiago Alcantara (groin) and Arthur Melo (thigh), and defenders Ibrahima Konate (thigh) and Calvin Ramsey (knee). The young right-back will likely miss the rest of the season, Diaz has started running after a long injury and should be back in less than a month, and the same time frame is given to Thiago. Arthur and Konate could be back in a week, when Liverpool travel to face Crystal Palace.
Alisson Becker will be in goal, likely with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson on the defensive flanks, but Klopp now has a decision to make in the centre-back department. With Van Dijk back, it’s likely the Netherlands captain will pair up with Joe Gomez and squeeze out Joel Matip, who made several inexplicable mistakes in recent games. The midfield of Fabinho, Stefan Bajcetic and Jordan Henderson did a fine job against Everton, and they’ll probably start this one too. Upfront, again, with Jota and Firmino back, there are decisions to be made, but with the Real clash looming, it wouldn’t be a great surprise if Klopp goes with the trio of Darwin Nunez, Cody Gakpo and Mohamed Salah again, bringing the two returnees on at some point in the second half.
This should really be a tough contest, with plenty of momentum shifting and chances at both ends. It’s difficult to guess the outcome – most bookies (but not all) have given slightly shorter odds on Newcastle winning. But with both teams aiming for a win, goals are expected at both ends of the pitch.
Verdict: Both teams to score
Best odds: 7/10
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!