The FourFourTwo Preview: Liverpool vs Newcastle
Welcome to Anfield. All home fans must be in possession of a valid match ticket and a pocket radio. Box of tissues optional.
The entire Kop will have one ear on the Etihad come Sunday afternoon, but after Manchester City's late destruction of Aston Villa in the week it will be far more in hope than expectation.
- Palace 3-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Norwich 2-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 3-2 Man City (Prem)
- West Ham 1-2 Liverpool (Prem)
- Newcastle 3-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-2 Swansea (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-4 Man Utd (Prem)
With a first title in 24 years in Liverpool's sights, Steven Gerrard's untimely slip against Chelsea was hard to swallow. The late capitulation at Crystal Palace, however, where they blew a three-goal lead in the last 12 minutes, was the moment Reds' fans quietly told themselves the dream was probably over.
And then to Wednesday night, when Villa kept out Man City for more than an hour. All they needed was one deflected goal off Andreas Weimann's backside and the DREAM WOULD BE BACK ON! Full-time: City 4 Villa 0. These are emotionally draining days for Liverpool fans.
Where did it go wrong? Manager Brendan Rodgers has conceded his "Roy of the Rovers" side were looking to boost their goal difference further against Palace when they should have shut up shop – and in hindsight he probably wishes he'd played Chelsea at their own game seeing as a draw would have kept the Reds in pole position – but to compare the last fortnight as a title collapse to rival Newcastle's in 1996, as some have done this week, is desperately harsh. Rodgers' team have only dropped points from two games in 13, remember, not thrown away a 12-point lead at the top.
And come 3pm on Sunday, that glimmer of hope will still be there. Can West Ham's Andy Carroll become a belated Kop legend with the goal to beat City at the Etihad? It's unlikely, but Liverpool have to ensure they do their bit at home – and they couldn't have picked a better opponent than Newcastle, who seemed to take their foot off the gas on Boxing Day, yet will miraculously finish the season in the top half.
Of all Premier League match-ups, this fixture is perhaps the most synonymous with goal-laden thrillers – Liverpool's two 4-3 wins in the late '90s being the most memorable – and there has never been a goalless draw between the sides in the Prem era.
Their last two meetings, both at St James' Park, saw the Reds blitz the Magpies 6-0, before Liverpool twice came back from a goal down to claim a 2-2 draw against 10-man Toon.
For all the goals and drama, it's been 20 years since Newcastle won at Anfield in the league, and their manager Alan Pardew will be hoping Liverpool's defenders continue where they left off at Selhurst Park. Centre-backs Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel were guilty of sitting very deep as the Eagles battled back, and their poor positioning proved costly. With just a solitary clean sheet in 17 appearances together, don't be surprised to see Rodgers shuffle his centre-back pack on Sunday by recalling Daniel Agger.
Pardew will have been mightily relieved to get a long-overdue win against Cardiff last time out, but the season can't end soon enough for him, the club or Newcastle's angry fans, most of whom are desperate for the manager to go. No 69th-minute walkout has been planned for the trip to Liverpool, but the bedsheet warriors should again be out in force in the away end.
On the pitch, there was cheerier news for the club this week with skipper Fabricio Coloccini ending 18 months of speculation about his future by pledging to stay. And that's about as good as it gets in Tyneside right now. Indeed, there's so much gloom about the place, it seems apt that Newcastle are to line up at Anfield in all grey as they showcase next season's ashen away kit.
Jose Enrique is Liverpool's only major injury victim as they welcome back Jordan Henderson from what's felt like a three-month suspension, rather than a three-game one. The midfielder has been badly missed since his red card against Man City, his fine form putting him on course for a World Cup call-up. The 23-year-old has good memories of facing the Magpies, the only double of his career coming in last term's 6-0 rout.
For the visitors, Papiss Cisse's broken knee cap has left him targeting pre-season. Hatem Ben Arfa – who has been linked with a switch to Liverpool – could again be left out, having fallen out of favour with Pardew.
Key battle: Luis Suarez vs Loic Remy
The two strikers won't be direct opponents on the field, but they will be certainly in the spotlight for Sunday's game and beyond. With Real Madrid president Florentino Perez believed to be plotting a summer bid for Suarez, one thing's for certain: it'll take far more than the £40,000,001 placed on the table by Arsenal last year to prise away the double-winning footballer of the year. Whatever happens, the rest of the football world will be praying it's a transfer saga that doesn't rumble on until August 31.
Suarez finished the game at Palace in tears, but he certainly did his bit for his side, despite feeling ill during the pre-match warm-up. The Uruguayan had the most shots at goal across both teams (7), the most on target (3), and only Raheem Sterling completed more passes in the attacking third (17). Always a menace, he was rewarded with a goal on 55 minutes following a fine one-two with Sterling – his 31st league goal of the season.
As for the visitors, goalscorer-in-chief Remy looks certain to be available this summer. The Frenchman's loan spell from QPR is up, and even if the Hoops are promoted, the west Londoners and Remy seem keen to cut ties. "Nowadays, without being pretentious, I might be able to play for a bigger club, a top-five European club,' said the 27-year-old. "I'm sure of what I can do. I can still be much better."
Arsenal might not quite tick the "top-five European club" box, but Remy was in the stands at the Emirates in midweek – leading to speculation ahead of the post-match press conference. "I have just been informed Remy was here. I did not know," said Gunners boss Arsene Wenger. "I hope he paid for his ticket."
Nevertheless, with 14 goals in 26 league games this term, Remy's ambitions aren't unrealistic, so don't be surprised to see Arsenal – or indeed Chelsea – come in for him, especially if he impresses at the World Cup. Remy wasn't at his best against Cardiff last weekend, missing a good chance in the first minute, but the striker still got the most shots away on the pitch (5), and bothered the back of the net with one of them.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- N'castle 2-2 L'pool (Prem, Oct 13)
- N'castle 0-6 L'pool (Prem, Apr 13)
- L'pool 1-1 N'castle (Prem, Nov 12)
- N'castle 2-0 L'pool (Prem, Apr 13)
- L'pool 3-1 N'castle (Prem, Dec 11)
This week saw confirmation that Rodgers is to agree a new long-term contract at Anfield until 2018, with owners Fenway Sports Group keen to reward the Northern Irishman for taking them to the Champions League (at least) this season. "To have kept improving like we have gives me immense pride, we're actually ahead of schedule." said Rodgers this week. "We've made great strides and, while I'm here, I'm fighting to win titles. I'll be relentless in my quest for that. That's why I came. I've seen a lot this season that has given us great hope going forward to next season."
The new deal, which Rodgers is expected to sign this month, is still two years short of Pardew's bumper package, but if those in the Gallowgate End get their way, he won't last another game after Sunday. "It made sense for [assistant manager] John Carver to be the one standing in the technical area," said Pardew after hiding in the dugout throughout the 3-0 win over Cardiff. "If I'd appeared it would have only made the fans angrier. Beating Cardiff was never going to be enough. I don't know if winning at Liverpool will be enough."
Such talk sounds rather ominous for Pards, especially with Newcastle's Evening Chronicle promoting a global protest campaign to get him the boot. What started out as a few fans being photographed with 'Pardew out' signs reached absurd levels this week, with even new-born babies, cats and, er, Minions from Despicable Me posing with the placards. No wonder the Prem's most well-groomed gaffer is feeling the heat, but if he is shown the door after Sunday's game, that compensation package will surely soften the blow.
Facts and figures
- 7 of Liverpool’s last 12 home games against middle-third teams have had at least 4 goals.
- Liverpool have had Win/Win doubles in 8 of their last 12 home games against middle-third sides.
- Newcastle have failed to score in 6 of their last 7 away matches.
- Newcastle have scored first in 5 of the last 7 meetings between these teams.
Best Bet: Over 4.5 Goals @ 2.70
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Suarez and the rest of Liverpool's S-club to take out their Selhurst Park frustrations on the visitors – but it won't be enough to claim the big prize. 4-1.