Early prospects: Familiar
After consigning the woes of Boxing Day travels to history, Newcastle take to the road again this Friday to face another traditionally miserable fixture – facing Kenny Dalglish’s shoestring budget Liverpool side at Anfield.
The performance against Bolton may have been less than convincing to some over the full 90 minutes, but a crucial return to our early season form of grinding out a win (particularly away from home) through disciplined organisation and ruthless finishing was very reassuring. The badly missed physical addition of Mike Williamson did much for this to materialise, and will be needed even more as we face a far more difficult prospect this time around than that of struggling Bolton..
Our hosts today are yet to lose a home fixture this season, equal only to Man City. However their six draws at Anfield is more than any other PL side at home this season and their three wins is as many as Wolves have managed at home. Glass half-full / half-empty…
Davide Santon is expected to be available for selection again after knee trouble saw him miss the trip to Bolton, largely as a precaution. Whether he returns to the starting XI after Ryan Taylor’s tidy performance and assist in our previous fixture is another thing – thoughts tending towards Taylor staying put to continue his good partnership with Jonas Gutierrez. Elsewhere, goal machine Demba Ba limped through the final minutes of the same fixture but looks okay to start in this fixture. Hatem Ben Arfa staked a claim for a starting return and is likely to do so with Pardew favouring the 4411 formation in our more stern away fixtures.
The home side have eternal victim Luis Suarez banned for this fixture and will likely replace him with former NUFC striker Craig Bellamy. Captain Steven Gerrard made a substitute return from injury on Boxing day, completing roughly 20minutes – despite the long term absence of Lucas Leiva it’s unlikely Gerrard will return to their starting XI just yet.
Opposition strengths and notable dangers:
• Shot heavy: Liverpool have amassed the third highest shots per game out of all PL sides this season at an aggressive 18.3 per game, largely done so through their creative and passing ability in central midfield, combined with a typical 442 formation which looks to use width to provide service to the front two, as well as attacking from the side areas themselves. Liverpool’s inability to turn these chances into goals has been a burden on their season – especially when considering their impressive defensive strength – but the sheer fact that they can regularly carve their opponents open is a very obvious strength, and danger to us.
• Full back support: As mentioned previously, The Reds regularly look to use width in attacking, with the majority of their play coming equally down either flank (as shown, right). Much of their ability to do this is from the support afforded to their wide midfielders by full-backs Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique. NUFC fans need not be reminded about Enrique’s insistence of getting forward, regularly pushing Jonas Gutierrez up the field with him in his time here. The enthusiasm and work rate of both mean their defensive duties are not sacrificed as a result and both with will be a stubborn opposition through the entire 90minutes.
• Tight defence: After settling with a more dynamic and balanced (and younger) centre back pairing of Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, as well as buying a much needed strong left-back (yes, we know who…) Liverpool’s defence looks as tight as ever, and the stats seem to support that. They concede just over an average of 13 shots per game (fifth tightest in the PL) and have conceded the join least number of goals so far of 14 in 18 fixtures. They do say to build from the back…
A final point of note is the ex-factor… Hardly a scientific point of course, but prospectively with three former Newcastle players in their ranks, two forming the strike partnership the likelihood to be bitten in the backside is as notably dangerous as it is annoying…
• Stay organised and disciplined: Arguably the most important part of our strategy for this fixture. A quick review Liverpool’s form strongly suggests we will be on the back foot for most of the game – if NUFC can react to this probable eventuality then the right attitude can be adopted do limit opposition chances, increase control of the ball and carve out more of our own counter attacking opportunities. Going fluid and trying to match Liverpool toe to toe would be taking a huge risk (although granted, it would be a cracking game to watch…) and one far less likely to reap point rewards.
• Smother Adam: Charlie Adam has taken to life at Liverpool without much trouble, and although not as crucially integral to the entire team as he was at Blackpool he plays a very important part in driving the team forward from midfield and creating chances. Averaging 51 passes per game (second only to gthe now injured Lucas), keeping Adam under close scrutiny will help limit his influence and Liverpool’s fluency greatly.
• Limit the crosses: Liverpool’s average of 29 crosses per game is unsurprisingly the highest of all PL teams – with one nearly every three minutes. Given the very real and obvious aerial threat of Andy Carroll waiting in the centre we should look to limit this service wherever possible.
Final thought and gut feeling:
The win at Bolton was very timely in preventing a downturn in form becoming something of real concern. But we should equally not overestimate it – the win was a functional three points but only three points and means little when competing for your next three points. Offer me a draw now and I will take that without question – however we will have to approach this fixture with supreme discipline to take that.