From impending doom, Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United are on their way to virtual safety. The Mags have picked up two massive victories in their last two, and have skyrocketed from just two points above the drop zone to 15th in the league table.
With Newcastle knocking on safety’s door, what should the expectation be for the final six matches?
Looking at Newcastle United’s previous season, they sat 9th in the league table after 18 matches. After that, however, their form dropped precipitously. Over the final 20 matches, they picked up just 19 points. More concerning, however, after reaching the 42 point mark on July 1st (MW 32), they went winless in their final six matches, picking up a measly two points from 18 possible.
The focus for Newcastle over the final six matches of this season should be to continue to press on, grow as a squad centered around their star man, and set the stage for a better 2021-22 campaign. That starts this weekend with Liverpool.
Newcastle should have a great chance of getting, at the minimum, a point from this contest. The Reds have been wholly underwhelming in 2020-21, exiting both League Cups in the 4th Round, losing out on Champions League in the Round of 16, and currently sitting outside even the Europa League position(s) in the Premier League. At times, their defense (albeit without their best player) has been thrashed, while at other times their attack has been as cold as ice.
Don’t Be Intimidated
Often times, Steve Bruce will rely on old cliches about playing a “Top 6” club. However, that is not how this Liverpool side should be approached. Just looking at their top goalscorer, Mo Salah only has 13 goals from open play, a number that continues to decrease year over year from his massive 2017-18. His three assists in the league are also by far his worst number in his time at Anfield.
For all the possession that Liverpool have had this season (and the xG that comes with it), their attacking output has been subpar. They sit T-5th in goals scored and only 9th in Total Assists. Again, despite their high amount of possession (2nd to only Man City), they are 11th in Goal Creating Actions/90’ (two offensive actions directly leading to a goal). So they’re in the final third of the pitch, but with a lack of ideas or creativity to finish.
On the defensive side, they are not only ravaged with injuries, but they are 9th in Goals Allowed/90’ and have only nine clean sheets this season (T-10th).
This Liverpool side certainly has the threat to control a match and score goals. However, if you go in with a plan and aren’t intimidated, there are points to be had.
Shut Down Crosses, Contest Aerials
Two big keys to beating Liverpool are two statistics that stand out from their season thus far: they are by far number one in the league in Crosses (486), and they are 17th in Aerial Dual Win%.
This predominantly means, 5 at the back may actually work here, if Newcastle can effectively use their wing backs to close down crossing opportunities, and use a strong trio of center backs to eliminate aerial threats.
These statistics tell Steve Bruce and Co. exactly how they need to defend and attack Liverpool. If they can use Jonjo Shelvey’s prowess to get the ball quickly downfield to Joelinton/Callum Wilson and they can limit those dangerous balls into their own 18’ box, they should be right in this match.
Let ASM Do His Thing
Outside of letting Liverpool lull themselves into a state of comfort, Newcastle need to do what’s worked best for them in the last 2+ matches. Which is, simply put, get the ball to the Frenchman. Saint-Maximin seemingly can create goals out of nothing, and it would be silly to try anything else as Option #1 to break down Liverpool’s defense.
Outside of Saint-Maximin, Newcastle could find some joy against the Reds by selectively pressuring them with a combination of Almiron, ASM, and Willock. Liverpool are dead last, tied with Sheffield United, in Defensive Errors leading to goals, with 18. So, forcing their back four to make quick decisions with the ball, while not completely abandoning their defensive responsibilities, could pay off for the Magpies.
Liverpool XI: Alisson, Robertson, Fabinho, Kabak, Alexander-Arnold, Milner, Thiago, Wijnaldum, Mane, Firmino, Salah
Newcastle XI: Dubravka, Murphy, Clark, Fernandez, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Longstaff, Saint-Maximin, Wilson, Almiron
Score Prediction: Liverpool 1 - 1 Newcastle
All in all, this will be a tough test for Newcastle United. They are certainly riding high with their last few results, but time will tell if they are focused enough and determined to finish the season strong. They could conceivably finish as high as 12th if they have a good run, but is that the mentality of this group?