By Daniel Ghorbal
Following a resounding 9-0 victory against Bournemouth at the weekend, Liverpool aim to make it back to back wins for the first time season against an unbeaten Newcastle side at Anfield. Despite not setting the world alight, the resilience and drive of Eddie Howe’s side has seen them avoid defeat, whilst holding Manchester City to a 3-3 draw too.
Maintaining that unbeaten start to the campaign against Liverpool is a tough ask though, especially with the injury problems mounting so soon into the season. Key men Bruno Guimaires, Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin are all likely to be missing for this game, the players that were so influential against City last week. What has been impressive about the Magpies this time around though is the way fellow team-mates have stepped up when it matters, with players such as Dan Burn, Miguel Almiron and Kieran Trippier all having great seasons thus far.
Prior to Howe’s appointment, there seemed to be a real lack of unity amongst the squad which held them back, but now the character of the dressing room is so clear to see, hence the ability to pick up points from losing positions and hold on in tight games.
Sunday’s draw against Wolves was a fascinating tactical battle. Interestingly, Newcastle had 64% possession that day, high statistics for a team away from home in the Premier League. Although Wolves were happy to sit behind the ball and play on the counter-attack, it reflects well on Newcastle that they now have the confidence on the ball to attack teams and display their own technical abilities. Allan Saint-Maximin’s stunning leveller was just reward for their display and epitomises the way they have improved as a team.
Despite his goal, Saint-Maximin pulled up towards the latter stages of the game and several journalists have said he’s likely to miss the trip to Anfield. In a way, Eddie Howe may feel like it’s best for the Frenchman to fully recover before he is risked. He is a unique talent and one of the league’s most entertaining prospects, but Newcastle still possess pace on the counter attack in the form of Almiron and Ryan Fraser (Saint-Maximin’s likely replacement) that can hurt Liverpool in behind. Newcastle have proved so far this season that they are tactically disciplined enough to sit back and soak up pressure, akin to the performance Crystal Palace produced at Anfield a couple of weeks ago.
It will be interesting to see whether or not Howe opts for a change of formation in this one, perhaps moving to a 5 at-the-back with Dan Burn, Fabian Schar and Sven Botman as a back three. Despite this though, going for a three in midfield to combat the Liverpool possession and control on the game is the most likely outcome.
A player within that midfield I want to focus on is Joelinton, undoubtedly one of the most improved players in the Premier League. Signed as a £40 million striker from Hoffenheim, he is now a combative midfielder full of energy and steel. Right now, he is arguably Newcastle’s most important player and will be crucial to their chances of performing at Anfield on Wednesday.
With the current injuries it’ll be fascinating to see who lines up alongside him. Sean Longstaff has been given a couple of opportunities and done reasonably well, whilst more offensively, youth product Elliott Anderson has produced some exciting cameo’s and could be in line for a start. Anderson was touted to get yet another EFL loan after impressing for Bristol Rovers in the second half of last season, but the Newcastle-born attacking midfielder has impressed in pre-season and has forced his way into the reckoning. The sort of brave decision by Howe in playing someone of his calibre could be the difference between losing and picking up a result, as it would be a threat that Liverpool are unlikely to expect.
The other interesting thing to focus upon when the teams come out tomorrow night is whether or not Newcastle’s record signing Alexander Isak is eligible to play or not. Work Permit issues prevented him from making his debut against Wolves, and because of the bank holiday there is a feeling that his inclusion within this week’s squad could be reliant on a tight deadline. If so, then it is a monumental boost for Newcastle to have him in the ranks. He is an athletic forward player with bags of quality, operating centrally or on the flank’s. Although Chris Wood is an effective number 9 when his strengths are played to, Liverpool are an opposition where sharp, incisive counter attacks are most likely to hurt them. A front three of Fraser, Isak and Almiron boasts pace in abundance and will give Klopp’s men something different to think about.
To Newcastle’s detriment, this is their third away game within a week and could be one step too far for them to maintain their unbeaten start. The fans will travel in their numbers as per usual and the team will come with a disciplined attitude, but whether or not they can keep a Liverpool team full of momentum quiet is yet to be seen. Crystal Palace visit St James. Park on Saturday and although it is absolutely not in Eddie Howe’s nature to turn his attentions to other games before the next one has even been played, it’ll be in the back of his mind that the home game is a much better opportunity of the Magpies picking up any points. Bournemouth came to Anfield and found themselves 2-0 down after 7 minutes, if Newcastle can get through stages in the game and slow the tempo right down then there is no reason they cannot frustrate an expectant crowd and make it a difficult night for Liverpool to endure.