Newcastle host Liverpool this Saturday in one of the most anticipated of the weekend’s Premier League clashes. These two have shared many a goal in recent fixtures, with the Reds winning 6-0 at St James’ Park last year, and a couple of memorable 4-3 encounters from the 1990’s still in the memory.
Both sides will be eager for points this weekend, with expectancy on both clubs this term. The hosts have an ambitious fanbase that will expect a competitive performance at the very least here, with the avoidance of another relegation scrap the bare minimum for a historic club that has lofty expectations.
For Liverpool, after five wins from their opening seven Premier League games, the Merseysiders are finally looking like a side that can realistically compete for a top-four berth. A win here will only strengthen the case.
Part of the Anfield side’s appeal this term has been the added quality that Brendan Rodgers has brought to the club, and as a result the option to vary his formation due to added strength in depth throughout the squad.
A 3-5-2 system is seemingly the Northern Irish manager’s formation of choice, as it allows Daniel Sturridge and Luis Saurez to play together in attack, brings Jordan Henderson into the centre of the park and allows him to field three strong centre-halves.
However, Newcastle boss Alan Pardew will look to expose Liverpool in wide areas on Saturday if Rodgers does play 3-5-2 at St James’ Park.
Former Newcastle charge José Enrique is an additional attacking weapon in this system, but may well be suspectible to leaving space behind him if he pushes too far forward and Pardew’s men can counter quickly.
On the other flank, Glen Johnson is thought to be close to a return after injury, and 3-5-2 suits him well. However, if the England international is not available, Rodgers’ selection at right wing-back will be interesting. Whether it is Kolo Toure, Raheem Sterling or Henderson, Newcastle will look to benefit.
Hatem Ben Arfa will look to attack the respective wing-backs, which could limit their ability to push forward. The in-form winger will also look to get in behind the likes of Enrique, with a rejuvenated Yohan Cabaye and his passing ability able to find his countryman in space.
Additionally, Pardew will implore his full-backs to get forward when Newcastle have the ball, which has the ability to create two-on-one’s and put Liverpool under pressure. Both Mathieu Debuchy and Davide Santon have offensive tendencies and if they can partner-up with their respective wingers, could find space to exploit.
As a result, the likes of Steven Gerrard and Henderson could be pulled out of position to help their wide men. One way or the other, this will be a good test for Liverpool and an indicator of if they are ready to fight for a top-four spot.
With the Reds’ progression, how they deal with the wide threat that Newcastle should offer will be an interesting sub-plot to what is likely to be an open game. If Rodgers intends to persist with the 3-5-2 system in the long term, dealing with opponents who play 4-4-2 or something similar, and the problems that this could cause wide, will be something the Liverpool manager will need to overcome.