Newcastle United head to Anfield on Friday with a chance to provide the Toon Army with the greatest of New Year's gifts: a spot in the table above Liverpool and their roster of former Toon idols. Many supporters will be buoyed by Luis Suarez's most recent run-in with the ban hammer, but the reaction will likely be the insertion of Craig Bellamy into the starting lineup. You may remember what happened the last time we played against speedy strikers (West Bromwich Albion), and may not be keen to see a repeat performance.
Newcastle will be hoping to continue on the uptick after halting their 6-match slide toward mid-table which ended with a 2-0 defeat of Bolton on Monday, and will be hoping for more from Hatem Ben Arfa, whose introduction saved everyone from a putrid match at The Reebok. Mike Williamson will look to pick up where he left off as well, providing a stable partner for Fabricio Coloccini at the heart of the Newcastle defense.
5 interesting factoids:
- Anfield has been a little less than a fortress for Liverpool this year, dropping points in 5 of their last 6 home matches (1-5-0, including draws with Blackburn, Swansea and Norwich). In spite of their indifferent point return, Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 9 league home matches.
- Newcastle United have scored in each of their last 7 trips away from St. James' Park.
- Liverpool have out-possessed every team to come into Anfield this year (including Manchester United and Manchester City) . . . except Wolves.
- Liverpool are joint-stingiest defense in the Premier League, having conceded only 14 goals in 18 matches.
- Mike Williamson, upon his return to Premier League action, won 3 out of 5 aerial battles, passed for 81% and performed three out of three tackles successfully.
There are fascinating match-ups all around the park:
- It is possible that this match will see the return of Steven Gerard to the Liverpool starting lineup, potentially setting up a Gerard/Adam v. Cabaye/Tiote match up. If this comes to be, and everyone is playing as well as they should, I would pay money every day to watch it.
- Gaby Obertan v. Jose Enrique: We all recall how much fun it was when Enrique was marauding the left for us... Not very secret parts of me are really looking forward to an appearance of good Gaby to capitalize on space behind Enrique when he goes forward. Or at least good Gaby takes some runs at him and abuses him like he did Patrice Evra style.
- Demba Ba has scored as many goals as Liverpool have conceded (14 for each). Interestingly, if Demba scores, these numbers will change in tandem.
- Mike Williamson v. the former number 9 shirt: Put him in your pocket, big man. I don't care if he never comes out.
Newcastle United FC
Currently: 7th place, 8-6-3, 30 pts
Out: Sylvain Marveaux (groin), Danny Guthrie (groin), Dan Gosling (suspension) Steven Taylor (Achilles), Lovenkrands (calf)
Possible: Davide Santon (knee)
Projected XI (4-4-2): Krul | Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon | Obertan, Tiote, Cabaye, Jonas | Best, Ba
Projected Subs: Elliott, Ferguson, Perch, Vuckic, Ben Arfa, Sammy, Shola
Out: Lucas Leiva (knee)
Probable: Steven Gerard (knee)
Currently: 6th place, 8-7-3, 31 pts
Projected XI (4-4-2): Reina | Enrique, Agger, Skrtel, Johnson | Maxi, Adam, Gerard, Downing | Belamy, former #9 shirt
Projected Subs: Doni, Shelvey, Carragher, Kuyt, Henderson, Kelly, Coates
There are a million reasons for Newcastle to be up for this match up. Unfortunately, most of them involve emotional hot-buttons for the support instead of any sort of tangible reason for the players. Again, though, we're in a situation of trying to maximize points gained while we still have vital players before they leave for the Africa Cup of Nations. I'm not predicting the match, but at the very least, this should be more entertaining than the first 60 minutes of the Bolton match.