Liverpool v Newcastle is the Saturday lunchtime game and we are expecting goals…
It is certainly easy to predict how this game will look. Newcastle United will sit back for long periods of the match and invite Liverpool to try and break them down, safe in the knowledge that without Jordan Henderson driving them forward, Jurgen Klopp’s side have become easy to reduce to stagnant football.
And Newcastle have a good chance of causing damage on the counter. They have scored seven goals in their last three games since Steve Bruce switched to a 3-5-2 formation, with Allan Saint-Maximin inspiring them to drive through any porous defenders – like those currently at the heart of Liverpool’s back line. Fabinho’s absence from midfield only increases their chances of scoring on the break.
Key battle zone
But Liverpool should really have enough to outwit a dodgy Newcastle defence. Four of the five goals they have conceded since moving to a 3-5-2 have come from the same zone of the pitch and the same mix-up between left wing-back Matt Ritchie and left centre-back Paul Dummett. Some of these have been obvious – think the big gaps left twice in two minutes for Harry Kane – and some have been more subtle, such as the failure to put pressure on a cross that led to West Ham’s first.
Mohamed Salah was rested for the 1-1 draw with Leeds, suggesting he will be fresh and firing, ready to move intelligently into pockets of space between Ritchie and Dummett. As the Liverpool forwards bear down on the defence, look out for the sudden disorganisation that occurs between these two Newcastle defenders. Between Trent Alexander-Arnold (three goal contributions in his last five) and Salah, Liverpool should take advantage.
Keep an eye on… Fabinho’s absence from midfield
Fabinho has returned to centre-back now that Nathaniel Phillips is side-lined with a hamstring injury, meaning once again Liverpool are unable to sustain pressure for long periods. Klopp’s biggest mistake this season has been taking the Brazilian out of the middle, because in his absence there is nobody to stamp out counter-attacks at source and drive the ball forward again, allowing opponents to create a more even contest.
Liverpool need territorial dominance to grind teams down – that was the template for their success last season – and the Leeds draw was another example of their inability to do so without Fabinho. In the second 45, with legs tiring, Liverpool were pushed back, conceding the equaliser. Newcastle have the pace and counter-attacking strategy to gain yards and avoid being pushed right into their own six-yard box.
One to watch… Allan Saint-Maximin
That counter-attacking source is Allan Saint-Maximin, whose explosive return from injury has seemingly ended Newcastle’s relegation concerns. He is the maverick element to this team, a one-man randomiser who can turn Bruce’s stale football into something that nobody quite understands how to stop.
Saint-Maximin appears to be excelling as part of a front two, which is particularly worrying for a Liverpool team that coped so badly with Leicester City’s strike partnership after Brendan Rodgers switched to a 3-5-2 in their 3-1 win in February. Relatively simple, long-ball football can unsettle the Liverpool centre-backs.
Odds correct at the time of publication. 18+ Please Gamble Responsibly. Visit begambleaware.org