This fixture has been one of the most entertaining and exciting in Premier League history, with goals almost always guaranteed and both teams fond of playing attacking football. The reverse fixture at St James’ Park back in October ended in a 2-2 stalemate, while Liverpool fans will remember clearly their 6-0 drubbing of Newcastle towards the end of last season.
Since then, both teams have experienced contrasting fortunes: Brendan Rodgers has led his team from a seventh-place finish to being within reach of the title, while Alan Pardew has seen his future publicly questioned by the Geordie faithful.
And while the Liverpool fans at Anfield will be looking to give their heroes a much-deserved ovation during the post-match lap of honor, they will also be keeping a keen eye on developments at the Etihad Stadium, where a West Ham United win over Manchester City could mean that Liverpool wrest the title back if they do the business at Anfield.
As we continue our preview series in the buildup to this pivotal final-day clash—click here for our Liverpool lineup for the match—let’s take a closer look at a few scenarios that may decide how Sunday’s game will pan out.
A Tale of Set Pieces
Since the departure of Yohan Cabaye over the January transfer window, Newcastle United have desperately lacked a talisman and game-changer from set pieces.
And this has been a big enough issue to catch the attention of The Chronicle’s Neil Cameron, who highlighted that only Hull City, Norwich City and Cardiff City have scored fewer times from a set piece than Newcastle have this season.
By contrast, Liverpool have been the most prolific from dead-ball situations. Steven Gerrard, due to his unerring corners and free-kicks, has racked up a joint league-high assist count (12, alongside fellow teammate Luis Suarez), while Martin Skrtel has scored seven goals this season.
In their ultimately calamitous collapse against Crystal Palace last Monday (more on that later), the Reds took the lead from an 18th-minute corner from an unlikely source: Joe Allen.
Granted, this goal was as much down to Liverpool’s movement on set pieces as it was to Crystal Palace’s lackluster marking—not a Tony Pulis hallmark—but Allen’s shuffle from the front post to the back post (white circle and white arrow) could have taken his marker Joe Ledley (blue circle and blue arrow) by surprise.
It was that simple front-to-back-post run that caused trouble in the Eagles’ penalty area, especially because Palace captain Mile Jedinak’s tussle with Luis Suarez in front of Julian Speroni (yellow circle) actually became an obstacle to Ledley’s belated defensive adjustment, leaving an entire area unmarked for Allen to place his header (red box).
Gerrard’s deliveries have caused Liverpool’s opponents endless trouble this season. Newcastle have been warned.
The Suarez-Sturridge Connection
For our second film analysis, let's revisit October's 2-2 draw at St James' Park and look at the last goal of the contest, a Daniel Sturridge equalizer that showcased the best of the electrifying SAS partnership (Raheem Sterling hadn't returned to the Liverpool first team yet, which shows just how impressive his turnaround has been this season).
This graphic looks a bit more complicated, given that it comes two moves before the actual goal, but bear with us here.
Victor Moses was on the ball on the Liverpool left flank, with Suarez bursting through the center of the pitch (white circle and white arrow) to get into an entire 20-yard area vacated for him (red box). The dotted red line indicates the first pass that set off this move, as Moses found an inch-perfect ball into Suarez's stride.
Occupying the Newcastle defence's attention, however, was more than Suarez's run. Sturridge embarked on an almost parallel run to Suarez's, charging into the box at the same time as his partner in crime (blue circle and blue arrow).
As Suarez found space and controlled the ball after evading the home defenders, he put in a lofted ball into Sturridge's path for an easy header into the back of Tim Krul's net. It was a move that displayed not only the creative and attacking force that SAS have represented this season but also how devastating their individual movement can be to the opposing defence.
Newcastle's High Defensive Line
Chelsea and Jose Mourinho received plenty of criticism for the way the Blues sat back and defended during their 2-0 away win at Anfield a couple of weeks ago, but in hindsight, sitting deep and absorbing pressure from Liverpool was perhaps one of the only ways to deal with the Reds' electrifying attack.
As we show in our third scenario, perhaps Newcastle and Alan Pardew could've done with some useful tips from Mourinho when they hosted Liverpool in October.
We now look back to Liverpool's first equalizer at St James' Park, after Yohan Cabaye's blistering strike from range had opened the account for Newcastle. To be exact, we look at the passage of play that led to the penalty that Luis Suarez won, which was subsequently scored by Steven Gerrard for his 100th league goal for Liverpool.
One of the defining characteristics of the SAS partnership is that both are not conventional center-forwards, but rather dovetail creatively and unpredictably, with one dropping deep and one bursting forward.
On this occasion, Daniel Sturridge was the one who dropped back to receive the ball in the midfield. He turned to look for Suarez making a run into the Newcastle area (white circle and white arrow).
Sturridge's ball (dotted red line) found Suarez impeccably, and the No. 7's run into the Newcastle area (red box) was essentially unchallenged until Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa caught up with him (blue circle and blue arrow)—albeit too late, as the Frenchman pulled Suarez down, leading to a penalty and a red card.
But the defining aspect of this shot was the curved yellow arc, which indicates the defensive line that Newcastle held in the buildup to this goal. With a turn and run, Suarez left the entire Newcastle defence for dead. Essentially, Alan Pardew was taking a major risk operating so far forward when his opponents had two of the best forwards in the Premier League against him.
Liverpool’s Own Defensive Woes
We said we would touch on Liverpool’s collapse against Crystal Palace, so Liverpool fans may want to look away now at this last point.
Hard as it might be, Brendan Rodgers and his team must look back on the match and rue how easily they gave up their three-goal advantage. Of course, Tony Pulis must be afforded a lot of the credit with his attacking substitutions while 0-3 down, but the ease with which the Eagles brushed the Reds aside will have been concerning for Liverpool.
The picture above is a freeze frame of the immediate buildup to Dwight Gayle’s equalizer in the 88th minute. Joel Ward delivered a simple long ball over the top (dotted red line) to Glenn Murray, who chested the ball into Gayle’s path before a cool finish past Simon Mignolet.
The problem came in the marking and defensive positioning displayed by Liverpool’s defenders, as Martin Skrtel (yellow circle) is at fault.
Skrtel, who was supposed to occupy himself with an out-and-out striker (in this case Gayle), found himself with two immediate opponents for him to consider marking. Would he stick with Gayle, who was darting into the box, or would he move to Murray and try to clear the ball by winning a header?
Meanwhile, Glen Johnson (yellow circle), who had turned in an impressive attacking performance in the first half of the contest but found his defensive game severely questioned in the second, found himself in no man’s land as he tried to belatedly match Gayle’s run into the box.
Skrtel’s attempt at winning the header clearly failed, as he didn’t even come close to Murray. The result of this shambolic positioning and decision-making was an equalizer that led to Suarez’s tears at the final whistle.
Fix this kind of defensive shakiness, and Suarez and Co. may be weeping tears of joy in seasons to come.