Liverpool host Newcastle in the opening game of the Premier League weekend as they look to make it 14 wins on the bounce in the league.
Coming into the game following an international break, there are still a number of injury worries for both sides. Allison, Naby Keita and Nathaniel Clyne remain on the side-lines for Liverpool, whilst Newcastle will be without six players, most notably summer signing Allan Saint-Maximin and wing back Matt Ritchie. The fitness of Miguel Almiron is also a cause for concern, as he returns from international duty with Paraguay where he netted his first international goal. The injuries are particularly worrying for Newcastle, and could expose a lack of depth in the Newcastle squad, an area Liverpool look likely to exploit.
The injury to Matt Ritchie and potential omission of Almiron will be key from a tactical point of view, and their importance to the side was evident in Newcastle’s stand out 1-0 victory against Tottenham.
Setting up 5-4-1, Newcastle looked to defend very deep and narrow and use the wings as their out balls for getting up the pitch. The link up play between Christian Atsu and Ritchie, plus the defensive understanding of Paul Dummett and Ritchie was one of the key reasons Newcastle were able to take a victory away from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Rather than rely on long balls up to Joelinton, Newcastle looked to use the wings as their way to retain possession. Similar to how Liverpool will set up, the Tottenham full backs were pressed very high as they looked to overload the packed Newcastle defence and offer width, and as a result, Newcastle looked to break quickly on the ball at 0-0, and aided by Tottenham’s sloppy defending, were able to create chances in the first half. Almiron on the right side added creativity, and although he would be replaced by the hardworking Muto, Muto doesn’t offer the same attacking threat.
Ritchie’s performance that day also stood out, as he was able to contribute both to defence and attack. He linked up well with Atsu going forward, and offered excellent cover for Dummett, who was allowed to stay central and deal with balls into the box. However, Ritchie’s replacement could be a weak link in the Newcastle side. In his first league start of the season, Jetro Willems started slowly against Watford, and his lack of awareness in the back 5 was partly to blame for Watford’s opener, not tracking Will Hughes’ run. Furthermore, compared to Kyle Walker-Peters, Trent Alexandar-Arnold is a different proposition to defend against, and although Willems offers extra pace, it is a major worry for Newcastle down this left side. If Dummett is
forced wider to cover for Willems, it will create space in the middle for Liverpool, an area where midfielders Wijnaldum and Henderson love to exploit with late runs. If looking for value in goal scorers away from the front three, Wijnaldum comes into the game with goals against Germany and Estonia for Holland, and 7/2 (Ladbrokes) represents good value, as he will be expected to be part of a box overload to break down the compact Newcastle defence as discussed above.
The other main worry for Newcastle will be the hold-up play from Joelinton. Although growing into the role, he could very quickly become an isolated figure up top. Virgil Van Dijk and Joel Matip have dealt comfortably against direct teams this season, in particular against Burnley before the International Break. Van Dijk won 12 of 14 aerial duals against Burnley’s front two, and it would be expected that if Newcastle were to opt for a direct approach, Van Dijk and Matip would be able to deal comfortably with this threat. Furthermore, it would put a lot of pressure on Newcastle’s midfield two to support him, which they will struggle to do when under the pressure that Liverpool will put them under, meaning that Liverpool, and in particular Fabinho in the deepest of the three in midfield, will be able to win a lot of second balls. A large element of Newcastle’s attacking threat in the past games has also come from centre half Fabian Schar joining attacks, however it won’t be expected that Bruce will allow him to do so in the same vain.
Factoring in the above, I expect to see Liverpool deal comfortably with Newcastle’s attack, and Liverpool to win to nil at 4/5 (Bet365) represents good value. Factoring in Newcastle’s xG from the first four games (averaging 0.71), they are coming up against one of the best defences in the league, and I expect to see them to struggle to link the play with Joelinton.
Newcastle will also look to keep the score down for as long as possible and stay in the game, so even if they concede early, I don’t expect to see them open up until the last quarter of the game at the earliest. If they are to afford Liverpool space after this point, they will be able to pick them off at ease. Although Liverpool have the Champions League to worry about in the midweek, they also have a number of players they could introduce from the bench with a point to prove such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Adam Lallana, so don’t expect to see them let up late on. As a result, I’m looking at a Liverpool goal after 76 minutes at 17/20 (WilliamHill).