Newcastle may be just the visitors Reds would wish for six days ahead of Wembley
When Liverpool were chasing that most improbable and ultimately unreachable Premier League title last year there was one fact that gave succour to even those who always feared it wouldn’t quite happen – the last game was home to Newcastle.
The Geordies have been like a benefit for the Reds on their trips to Anfield in the Premier League era with their last 19 visits producing 16 Liverpool wins and three draws. You’ll remember many of them, moments that have been replayed countless times – legendary games, legendary goals.
If the last game was to count, Newcastle was just the opposition Anfield would have wished for. It didn’t count but Newcastle kept their end of the bargain with another losing display, albeit rather better than some might have expected after Martin Skrtel’s own goal gave them the lead.
On Monday they arrive at Anfield bottom of the Premier League’s form table, losing five of their last six games including a dreadful display in the Tyne and Wear derby against Sunderland last weekend.
Caretaker manager John Carver has an extensive injury list to contend with, a team that seems lacking in any form of fight and an owner who seems more keen on the balance sheet than creating a trophy-winning team.
No-one would thank anyone for complacency but this is surely the sort of team Liverpool would have wanted to play six days before an FA Cup semi final? The Reds are thankfully a different team now than the one which was so anaemic at St James's Park.
No need to go back over old ground here – the reasons are well documented and all too apparent.
Within the scoring struggles of the season though, the current form is just as concerning.
Liverpool have scored just four goals in their last five matches. When Jordan Henderson’s consolation penalty against Arsenal somehow found its way past Ospina he joined Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling as the Reds’ top league scorers on six. Everton’s centre half Phil Jagielka has five.
Any hopes of a swift return to form of Daniel Sturridge effectively seemed to be ruled out from the worst possible source this week – the player himself.
You won’t see me back to my best until next season with a full pre-season under my belt said the 25-year-old, whose 24 goals last year were a big part of the team notching up 101 in the league alone.
Badly out of touch in the Cup replay against Blackburn, he will almost certainly stay in Brendan Rodgers’ team for the rest of the season, if fit. Quite simply Liverpool do not have any other natural goalscorers, Sturridge’s nowhere-near-best is still better than the rest.
Liverpool averaged 2.66 goals in the league last year. This year they have scored more than two goals just five times – against Spurs twice, Swansea, QPR and Leicester.
They’ve scored more goals against them in the Premier League – 84 – than against any other side.
Brendan Rodgers was virtually forced to return to a back four against Blackburn given the suspensions of both Martin Skrtel and Emre Can, two of his favoured back three.
His plans still had to be swiftly amended as Mamadou Sakho’s hamstring brought his evening to an early end, substitute Kolo Toure making up for his Emirates nightmare with a solid display alongside Dejan Lovren.
In front of them a midfield with Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson – fresh from the maternity ward – and Lucas Leiva were able to dominate possession and restrict Blackburn to only rare moments of pressure.
So then to Monday and with Can back Rodgers could return to his back three with Lovren and Toure alongside the young German.
That though would almost certainly lead to the dropping of one of that midfield triumvirate or force Henderson to a right wing back role which quite patently fails to make the most of his talents.
The best chance for Liverpool to control the game would seem to be with a back four for all that a centre half pairing of Toure and Lovren is far from ideal.
Glen Johnson in particular can give Liverpool some width from full back while Lucas can help provide defensive cover.
Jordon Ibe is back in training and impressing according to his manager but it would surely seem more likely he will be eased back in from the bench, especially given his cup tied status will deny him the prospect of galloping all over Wembley's turf next Sunday.