By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
On the back of the first international break of the season, table-toppers Liverpool look to continue their 100% winning start to the new Premier League campaign when Newcastle United visit Anfield.
The Reds returned to their dominant ways against Burnley last time out. A 3-0 win at Turf Moor sent a signal of intent to the rest of the league, proving this LFC side can match the physical nature of teams as well as outplay them. Who would have thought this would be the case just two years ago, when a poor Reds side lost 2-0 in the same fixture?
Newcastle had a hectic summer. Controversy off the pitch saw Steve Bruce replace Rafa Benitez due to a disagreement over how the club was being run. They have strengthened on it, however. More than £60million was spent improving the squad with two thirds of that outlay going on striker Joelinton.
The Brazilian scored his first and only goal so far in the away win at Tottenham. He will be looking for another big scalp to add to that. Jurgen Klopp’s side must make sure that it doesn’t happen here.
Before the match against Burnley, Liverpool looked shaky at the back despite winning their first three games. A higher defensive line was always going to need time to get used to and it showed. Norwich City and Arsenal both had more opportunities than the German would have liked at Anfield.
Of course, having to throw in a new goalkeeper who needs time getting used to the system should cause a few problems, but it was worrying the amount of times the opposition were getting in behind the people in front of him.
At Southampton the Reds were fortunate to lead at half time thanks to a Sadio Mané strike. They looked more dominant after the break. Roberto Firmino doubled Liverpool’s lead after Mané won the ball high up the pitch, but an Adrián mistake allowed Southampton a way back into the game to needlessly put the pressure back on. Danny Ings would miss a sitter, and the visitors were fortunate to escape with all three points.
Newcastle have made an indifferent start to the season. Four points from four games could be seen as underwhelming considering the money that has been invested, but in light of their troubles off the pitch it may not seem so bad.
On the second matchday they were on the receiving end of a 3-1 loss – PFA Player of the Month for August Teemu Pukki scored a hat-trick as the Magpies looked short of ideas all over the pitch. A late Jonjo Shelvey strike gave Bruce a consolation on what was a day to forget.
A surprise win against Tottenham Hotspur in the next game gave them their first three points of the season, Joelinton scored his first goal for the club and fellow new face Allan Saint-Maximin impressed. They defended well, keeping a clean sheet, but gave away numerous chances and were lucky not to concede a penalty when Jamaal Lascelles looked to have fouled Harry Kane.
With the fixture list starting to get congested, Jurgen Klopp will now be forced to utilise his full squad. The Reds kick off their Champions League campaign in Naples on Tuesday. With that in mind, we may see a couple of changes to the team selection.
Adrián looked much better against Burnley than in previous weeks and was ordered to stay at Melwood over the international break to get even more accustomed to tactics. With Alisson still sidelined, he will remain between the sticks for this one.
The back four will likely remain the same, though changes could be made in midweek. Joe Gomez would possibly have started this game, but he would be better suited to play against Napoli due to the pace in their attacking line.
Fabinho has been ever-present in Liverpool’s team since January. The Reds have not lost a game in which the Brazilian has started. His first call up to the national team in a while may require him to sit this one out, with Georginio Wijnaldum possibly taking on his deeper role.
James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could be called upon to sit in front of the Dutchman. Jordan Henderson played 180 minutes for England and, like Fabinho, should be rested for this game in preparation for their Italian adventure.
The usual front three will start again – Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané didn’t play international football so should be fully rested, while Firmino should have more than enough in the tank. If anyone is rested it will be the Brazilian, with Divock Origi the favourite to start in his place.
Steve Bruce has a number of injury concerns. Allan Saint-Maximin is out until October with a thigh problem. He joins Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle, Andy Carroll and Florian Lejeune on the treatment table. DeAndre Yedlin is a doubt due to a groin complaint.
He will probably name an unchanged side to the one that drew with Watford, though without any standout player in the team it will be hard to see Newcastle causing Liverpool any problems.
Joelinton and Miguel Almirón have proven they are capable of flashes of brilliance, but our defence should silence those moments for the 90 minutes. If anyone is to cause issues for the Reds, though, it will likely be one of these two.
Liverpool should win this game. Their form against teams from the bottom 10 last season was remarkable, winning all 20 matches and conceding just 11 goals. This form has been carried into the new campaign and I would expect it to continue for at least another week.
Of the 25 matches in which Steve Bruce has faced Liverpool as manager, he has been on the winning side six times. He has lost 10 and shared the points on nine occasions. Most of those came when Liverpool were a poor side and battling for a place in the top six. This team is a far different prospect.
I expect the Reds to win comfortably on Saturday. If firing, our front line will prove too much for a deep-lying Newcastle. Proceedings may prove frustrating at the start of the match, but our quality will shine come the full-time whistle.
Predicted final score: Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle