Well, that was painful to watch…and quite frankly painfully inevitable!
But considering some of the choices that have been made over the last few weeks... should we be surprised?
Bruno Guimaraes’s three-match ban thankfully ended and he should return to the starting lineup for the Carabao Cup final against Manchester United next Sunday barring any fitness issues, but there were clues to some of these issues prior to his red card. In fact, that red card is probably symbolic of a frustrated starting squad that has racked up minutes and withered creatively.
Let’s get the keeper discussion out of the way: Nick Pope’s red card and Martin Dubravka’s loan to Man Utd earlier this season make them both ineligible to play in the final a week from now. That leaves the Magpies with Loris Karius as the most likely starter, who was made famous during his time as a backup at Liverpool.
If you need a refresher, you can review Jeepers Keepers: Liverpool Flop Loris Karius. While some years have passed since that stretch of infamy, Man Utd have scored at least 2 goals in their last nine matches and 3 goals in four of those games. Marcus Rashford has scored in his last five games and scored two on Sunday against Leicester in a 3-0 dismantling at Old Trafford. Suffice it to say, things are not looking promising.
Though losing Jonjo Shelvey and Chris Wood in January hamstrung the roster, Howe was vocal in presenting the club in a positive light, acknowledging that he was hurting his own team to respect the wishes of players seeking out more minutes.
The idea behind an appeal would delay Pope’s suspension, but risk added suspension after playing in the Carabao Cup final. Chris Wood scored against Man City on Saturday, by the way.
Last week, I wrote that this lack of depth had the squad teetering on the edge of hitting the panic button, and Saturday’s performance only pushed the Magpies nearer to the cliff. It would have been an amazing story to have Shelvey return from injury, anchor the midfield, and lead the charge against the team that cast him aside years ago.
Alas, Shelvey’s absence required Joelinton to shift inside and fill the vacant midfield role. That move made sense, but filling out the midfield with a young Elliot Anderson and a Sean Longstaff whose inaccurate passes have supplied the counter-attack was insanity.
Liverpool may have been up and down this season, but up front, they are led by a fearsome Hydra in Darwin Nunez, Mo Salah, and Cody Gakpo. Clearly, a lineup with a shaky midfield would give way to the counter-attack and release of these three.
While Man Utd have had their own depth issues in the midfield to deal with, Casemiro’s return will coincide with Bruno’s. Howe will have to patch up the midfield and get creative so that we have enough firepower to score more than one goal while limiting the damage of the counter.
Maybe it’s time we start with both Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak. It’s worked in the past, and with Allan Saint-Maximin auditioning for a larger role or a transfer this summer, that would give the Magpies their own three-headed monster up front.
The prolific partnership of Trippier, Longstaff, and Almiron has dried up over the last few months, and we haven’t been reliably successful in set pieces all season long. Break up the counter with Bruno and Joelinton, and maybe the defense won’t have to rely on Karius all game.
What do you think? What changes would you make? And... where does Anthony Gordon fit in all of this?