Premier Preview: Newcastle United V Liverpool
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St James' Park
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You could be forgiven for forgetting there is still football to be played this season after the media circus that has followed a certain incident from last weekend. All the talk has been about kangaroo courts, disproportionate punishments and whether or not Luis Suarez will be hounded out of the English game?
The incident, during last Sunday's 2-2 draw with Chelsea, has seen topics as far ranging as morals, politics and mental stability discussed but there remains four games of mere ball kicking to be played before the hacks can turn their attention to the more cerebral surrounds of cricket and tennis.
I digress but why has the prime minister, for example, decided to get involved and cast aspersions? Surely there are bigger social fish for him to fry than a solitary South American footballer
Thankfully, Liverpool have nothing left to play for otherwise the 'bitegate' fallout would have been magnified even further. The Reds currently lie 7th and this weekend they face a trip to struggling Newcastle United who alarmingly have slipped to 16th with only one win in their last five league games.
Alan Pardew's Magpies, who finished 5th last year, will be only three points above the drop zone should FA Cup finalists Wigan Athletic win their game against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday afternoon.
Under pressure Newcastle boss Pardew as quoted earlier this week by The Telegraph: "I don't think we're under any illusions about what we need to do.
"But we're playing against a really good side and we're going to have to be a full tilt to beat them.
"I know our fans are intelligent enough to know that we're not just going to turn up and steamroller Liverpool. That's not going to happen. This is going to be a really tight game, but hopefully a game where we can get three valuable points."
Kop chief Rodgers speaking at his pre-match press conference on Thursday: "Alan and the team will be very disappointed with this season, having finished fifth last year.
"But one thing we know is they've got quality - Cisse, Cabaye and Sissoko who has come in. The January window worked really, really well for Alan. They brought in some terrific players and that has given them a boost.
"We understand it will be a difficult game, but if we show the intensity we did in the second half [against Chelsea] when we played really, really well - and could have arguably gone on and won the game - we'll always back ourselves to get a good result."
Newcastle United Team News:
First choice shot stopper Tim Krul is out for the rest of the season after dislocating his shoulder during the 3-0 defeat to local rivals Sunderland two weeks ago. The highly regarded Dutchman has been plagued by injury of late and understudy Rob Elliot has consequently featured on 14 occasions already this season. Another to be out for some time, including potentially the whole of next season, is defender Ryan Taylor. The unfortunate 28-year-old had only just returned from a cruciate knee ligament reconstruction when he re-injured the same knee in training last week. Others carrying problems include key performers Papiss Cisse (rib) and Cheick Tiote (hamstring) but, thankfully for the hosts' beleaguered manager, both are expected to be passed fit. Defenders Davide Santon and Fabricio Coloccini are also both nearing a return, after hamstring and back trouble respectively, although this weekend could come too soon for both. French midfielder Sylvain Marveaux, who almost joined Liverpool a couple of seasons ago, is another with doubts hanging over his involvement following a groin problem.
Elliot, Debuchy, Yanga-M'Biwa, S Taylor, Haidara, Tiote, Cabaye, Sissoko, Gutierrez, Ben Arfa, Cisse
Player to watch: Hatem Ben Arfa
A number of sources recently speculated that Liverpool could attempt to swap striker Andy Carroll for Ben Arfa this summer and it's easy to see why the club might be interested in acquiring the mercurial Frenchman. The technically gifted 26-year-old has an abundance of pace and skill and when on form can be almost unplayable. Ben Arfa's versatility - he can play right across the attacking midfield areas and even up front - would also make him a valuable addition to the Anfield squad.
Liverpool Team News:
Unless you've been on holiday to the moon, you will know that Luis Suarez will be suspended for this fixture and many more to come. The Uruguayan has decided not to appeal his ten-match violent conduct charge meaning Daniel Sturridge will return to the starting eleven after impressing from the bench against Chelsea. Spanish starlet Suso may also benefit from the Uruguayan's absence and see some game time during the final weeks of the current season. Despite being back in training, defender Martin Kelly will not feature again this season as Brendan Rodgers takes a cautious approach to his rehab from cruciate knee ligament reconstruction. Rodgers told the Liverpool ECHO on Thursday: "There are no thoughts for Martin to play between now and the end of the season. We just have to make sure we get him back fully fit and the objective was always to get him ready for pre-season." Italian forward Fabio Borini (shoulder) and 18-year-old winger Raheem Sterling (general fatigue) could yet feature again this season, despite previous suggestions to the contrary, but neither is likely to be in contention this weekend. Joe Allen is aiming for a pre-season return from shoulder surgery and could be followed under the knife by captain Steven Gerrard who will see out the season in spite of being plagued by a similar problem to the Welsh midfielder.
Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Coutinho, Downing, Sturridge
Player to watch: Daniel Sturridge
The ex-Chelsea striker had a brief lull recently after starting life at Anfield with a bang when signing in January. The 23-year-old became the first Liverpool player since Ray Kennedy in 1974 to score in his first three games for the club and with Suarez's enforced absence will have a prolonged run at the heart of the Reds attack. In recent weeks he's been hampered by injury and subsequently, due to the form of Stewart Downing and Philippe Coutinho, struggled initially to regain a starting position. There are areas of Sturridge's game that he needs to improve such as the awareness of others but the Kop faithful have certainly seen enough to be extremely excited by the future. His pace and directness are a real handful for defenders and, although perhaps not a natural goalscorer, he certainly finds the back of the net on a regular basis.
Match Facts & Stats
• Liverpool and Newcastle have met 164 times in their respective histories and Liverpool hold the upper hand with 78 wins to Newcastle's 47 and 39 draws. The Reds have scored a total of 283 goals to the Magpies tally of 201.
• Liverpool have drawn their last three Premier League games; they have not drawn four in a row since December 2008.
• Two of the recent draws were 0-0 stalemates but the Reds have only kept two clean sheets in 18 Premier League trips to Tyneside and there has not been a goalless draw in all 37 Premier League encounters between the two.
• A further indication that there is likely to be goals is the fact that Newcastle have conceded more goals than ever before at this stage of a Premier League campaign (60).
• Only against Aston Villa (11) has Steven Gerrard scored more Premier League goals than he has against Newcastle (seven). The England captain needs two more to reach 100 Premier League goals in his career.
42-year-old whistle blower Andre Marriner is the official appointed to this contest from the Select Group of Referees who control Premier League encounters. Marriner has taken charge of 34 games so far this season and shown 103 yellow and 5 red cards (all competitions). Interestingly all the sending offs have occurred in the last month including two in the Birmingham based referee's last match between Fulham and Arsenal. Newcastle enjoyed a rare win when they last encountered Marriner; defeating Stoke City 2-1 at the beginning of March. Ironically in January, with Marriner in the middle, Liverpool enjoyed a contentious 2-1 FA Cup victory over Mansfield Town when Suarez used his hand in the build up to scoring a decisive goal.
There is no escaping the monumental blow that Suarez's prolonged absence represents. As well as the bad, we saw the stunningly good last weekend when he deftly assisted one goal and scored another with a last gasp header. You only have to think back to the reverse fixture between these two sides in November, when Suarez scored one of the goals of the season in a 1-1 draw, to know that he is amongst the most gifted players on the planet. Football is an unsympathetic world however and Liverpool cannot afford to feel sorry for themselves for too long otherwise opponents will take advantage. There is no question that the loss of Suarez weakens the Merseysiders but they still have enough quality to beat most teams in the league, including Newcastle. Unfortunately, as found against the likes of Southampton and Reading recently, the Geordies greater need for points could prove pivotal on this occasion.
Vital Liverpool predicts a 2-2 draw
Newcastle United - Premier League v West Ham United at Upton Park on Saturday 4th May 2013, kick off 3.00pm BST.
Liverpool - Premier League v Everton at Anfield on Sunday 5th May 2013, kick off 1.30pm BST.
So that's what we think, how about you? Let us know your thoughts and predictions for the game below...
Click here to read our interview with a Newcastle fan
Click here to read former Red Mark Lawrenson's prediction
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