LIVERPOOL’S mini revival will come under some serious scrutiny today when they travel to Newcastle United for what should be a cracker of a game.
The Reds, way off from where they and many others thought they would be at this stage of the season, will face a Magpies side that is sitting pretty in fourth spot in the Premier League standings and with every chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season.
Liverpool, in contrast, are in lowly ninth place, nine points off Newcastle (albeit with a game in hand) and that lucrative slot in Europe’s elite club competition. They have been eliminated from the two domestic cup tournaments that they won last season – the FA Cup and Carabao League Cup.
And yet, as bleak as it may appear, Jurgen Klopp’s charges do have a chance – however remote it may appear right now – of finishing in the top four, which must be their target at home.
To put things in perspective, were Liverpool to win at St James Park and then follow that up with a victory in their game in hand, they would be just three points behind Newcastle.
That must be Klopp’s thought, as he will also be thinking about their Champions League match against Real Madrid on Tuesday night.
In different circumstances, one might be inclined to think that the German manager would be picky about who plays against Newcastle and who he might rest for the visit of the Spanish giants. But that almost certainly won’t be the case.
Liverpool will be expected to field their strongest squad possible, both today and on Tuesday. And for Klopp, things look a little bit better than they did two weeks ago.
The introduction of Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino as substitutes against city rivals Everton on Monday was a huge boost for a team that is struggling to cope with a long injury list.
The sight of inspirational central defender Virgil van Dijk on the bench was also heartening for Liverpool, and there is a good chance his leadership skills will be back in play as early as Tuesday, if not this weekend.
The absences of Luis Dias and Tiago will hurt the Reds, but not as much as if Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo contribute significantly in support of Mohamed Salah.
These are hardworking lads who give their all for the team, but they haven’t scored enough.
Gakpo got his first goal for the Reds against the Toffees and will be delighted if he can add one or two more on Tyneside.
Notwithstanding this, Liverpool will do well to just score against Newcastle. The Magpies have the tightest defence in the league – and by some margin.
They have conceded just 13 goals in their 22 league fixtures to date, and that is eight better than second-best Arsenal, who let three in against Man City in midweek,
Eddie Howe’s sturdy backline has been the key to them losing just once so far this season.
But they have wasted points in that they have drawn nearly three times more than the top three.
Newcastle have 11 draws this season, while Man City, Arsenal and Man United have drawn just four each.
Newcastle’s area of concern, if you can call it that, is goal-scoring.
They have knocked in just 36, which is the least among the clubs in the top six. And they appear to depend too heavily on Paraguayan Miguel Almiron.
An attacking midfielder/winger first and foremost, Almiron has 10 league goals, his best return since joining Newcastle in 2019.
But that is way too little for a team wanting to win the title, and more so with no one else really up there in support.
A lot will also depend on how the teams are set up.
The home team will probably sit deep and wait to counterattack.
Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin will be tasked with penetrating the flanks in the hope of finding Callum Wilson, who has seven goals to his credit, or Alexander Isak, if he is fully fit.
Wanting to build on their first Premier League win of the year, Liverpool will need to improve the service to their front three, which should again be Nunez, Gapko and Salah, with Jota and Firmino coming on in the second half.
Should van Dijk make his first start in eight games since the hamstring injury in the game against Brentford, it would be a massive psychological boost.
But equally importantly, Klopp will be keen on another dominant display, crowned with victory against a side also chasing a Champions League slot.
A draw looks like the most likely result, but it might just be that Liverpool are more hungry.