Liverpool vs. Newcastle: 6 Key Battles to Watch in Premier League Clash
It was left to Liverpool and Newcastle to restore some pride for English teams in Europe last week, and both teams came away with a 1-0 win. Sunday sees the teams face each other in domestic competition and it's a crucial fixture for both sides.
Newcastle haven't won away all year, but they've also mastered the art of the comeback draw, with Demba Ba rescuing them each time. Liverpool's poor start to the season has been well documented, but Brendan Rodgers' first win at Anfield will have settled his nerves slightly.
On paper it looks to be a game that will be decided by a variety of individual battles, which are documented over the following six pages..
Fabricio Collocini vs. Luis Suarez
When Fabricio Collocini returned to the side for the Tyne-Wear derby, there were a few doubts about his ability to hold down the defence in such a high-pressure environment.
The Argentinan responded with a dominant performance and looked totally untroubled up to the point of his substitution in the second half.
Whether Newcastle would have held on for the win with him on the pitch is impossible to prove, but when he left a level of nervousness crept into the defence that hadn't previously existed.
Luis Suarez has been accused of many things in his Liverpool career, but the one thing no one has ever questioned is his ability on the ball. Suarez's change of pace and quick feet have caused defenders all sorts of problems, and Collocini will be tested throughout the 90 minutes.
Suarez's latest accusation came from Everton manager David Moyes, who said that the Uruguayan ruined the Merseyside derby with his diving. Suarez addressed this by scoring a goal and celebrating by diving theatrically at the Everton bench, which Moyes described as “great” (via The Daily Mail).
Collocini will need to stay on his feet and not commit himself too early. Regardless of the validity of Moyes' claims, Suarez often draws defenders into the foul; however, as Norwich have discovered this season, standing off him is even more inadvisable.
Collocini faces a tough task, and out of everything listed here, this particular battle is the most likely to decide the game.
James Perch/Vurnon Anita vs. Steven Gerrard
Cheick Tiote’s three-match domestic ban means that Newcastle are deprived of his presence in midfield, protecting the back four. James Perch was asked to fulfill that role against West Bromwich Albion last week, but if selected he will face a different challenge against Steven Gerrard.
Perch needs to deny Gerrard the time and space he needs to dominate games, something which Everton did well last week. If Gerrard can be shut down, the creative element of the Liverpool midfield often shuts down with him.
Perch's performace against West Brom was competent, but nothing more, so it may be wise for Pardew to consider Vurnon Anita if he wants to maintain some semblance of control over the midfield.
Anfield isn’t the fortress it used to be, but Liverpool will still look to run the game through their captain. Anita would provide a solid presence in midfield, as well as offering a closer match to Tiote’s skill set.
The former Ajax midfielder is also blessed with better passing ability than Perch, which could prove useful in forming a partnership with Yohan Cabaye that could hit Liverpool on the counter.
Demba Ba vs. Martin Skrtel
Demba Ba left the field with a shin injury during the game against West Brom, and his participation in the Anfield clash has been listed as “doubtful” at the time of writing (via The Shields Gazette).
However, Ba has scored seven goals in 10 games this year so Newcastle will want him on the field, as Liverpool will consider him their main threat. It’s been rumoured that Liverpool will make a move for Ba in the January window, so they know the goalscoring menace that he provides.
Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel have been dubbed the new Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia, and the understanding they possess is key to their partnership.
Ba has had some success this year from route one passes, demonstrated by goals against Reading and West Brom that came from fairly speculative long balls.
If Ba plays, it’s unlikely he’ll have that sort of opportunity against Liverpool, as the centre back duo will intercept these passes all day. Instead he will have to rely on good positioning off the ball and connection with his midfield in order to get results.
Ba isn’t really a player that will take on defenders, so the one-on-one battles aren’t something that he will seek out. His instinct is as good as any, though, and Skrtel in particular could come off worse as he attempts to stay goal side of Ba.
Raheem Sterling vs. Danny Simpson
Everton seemed to have no answer to Raheem Sterling last week, so Newcastle will be anxious that they learn from the Toffees’ mistakes. Sterling caused all manner of problems with his pace and Phil Jagielka often struggled to keep up.
Brendan Rodgers opted to switch Sterling to a central attacking role in the Merseyside derby, but he also saw time on the left wing early on in the game and has the attributes to switch easily between the two.
Having netted his first senior goal for Liverpool in the 1-0 victory over Reading, Sterling will be keen to add to his tally.
He missed a couple of good opportunities against Everton and will be looking to make amends back at Anfield this week. Newcastle would do well to study Leighton Baines’ methods, who frustrated Sterling for long periods of the derby game.
Danny Simpson is returning from injury, but was poor against West Brom. Alan Pardew is likely to keep him in the starting lineup, but Simpson could find himself exposed early against Sterling. Simpson struggled to close down West Brom and could have denied the cross that led to their goal had he done his job properly.
If Pardew decides to start Perch in midfield, Anita could be the solution at right-back if Simpson has problems with Sterling’s pace. The Dutchman is a very capable defender and would add extra bite to the defence, as well as providing strong links to the midfield.
Hatem Ben Arfa vs. Andre Wisdom
Andre Wisdom has had a swift rise to the top, helped in no small part by injuries to the Liverpool starting lineup. Nevertheless, the composure and attitude of the 19-year-old has been admirable, as have been his performances.
Brendan Rodgers is favouring a youthful approach, and along with Suso, Sterling and Jonjo Shelvey, Liverpool have a wealth of impressive young talent on their books. It might not translate to a title-winning side right now, but there’s no denying that the future looks pretty good at Anfield.
Hatem Ben Arfa will be a stern test for Wisdom, possessing an arsenal of tricks and mazey runs that can distract defenders and enable him to breeze past. Wilson has the pace to stay with him, but Ben Arfa has the experience.
The Frenchman has been enjoying some of his best form in a Newcastle shirt and has looked threatening in every game he has played this year.
In the midst of a poor Toon performance last week, Ben Arfa provided the late run that gave Sammy Ameobi the chance to shoot, and via Papiss Cisse, Newcastle claimed the three points.
Brendan Rodgers vs. Alan Pardew
Brendan Rodgers showed a great deal of tactical nous at half time last week, bringing on Sebastian Coates in an effort to stop the destruction of Liverpool along the flanks.
This gave Wilson more support and allowed Rodgers to switch Sterling to the central role described earlier, which brought a great deal of success. Had Liverpool won the game, it would have been difficult to credit anyone but Rodgers.
Newcastle fans wish their manager was so flexible with his attacking options. Pardew will, more often than not, roll out a variant of the standard 4-4-2, relying on his central midfielders to dictate possession.
This leads him open to exploitation should an opposing manager change the shape of his team to something more unconventional, which was all-too evident against Manchester United earlier this year.
United had been adopting 4-2-3-1 formations in various games leading up to the Newcastle fixture, so Pardew will have been aware of the tactic.
However, in sticking with 4-4-2 he left Tiote and Cabaye surrounded by Wayne Rooney, Tom Cleverley, Michael Carrick and Shinji Kagawa. The game was away from Newcastle within the first15 minutes.
There is enough talent within the Magpies’ lineup to vary the system and not remain so rigidly adhered to the 4-4-2. Even a 4-3-3 would allow for a greater variety of attacking options.
There is already a huge amount of reliance on Cabaye and Ben Arfa to produce, so leaving them stranded and outnumbered isn’t going to help. Pardew must be willing to call the game as it progresses, or he could find it slipping away from him.