Returning from the second international break, Liverpool sit atop of the Premier League alongside Arsenal, albeit with a slightly inferior goal difference. There have been many positives for Liverpool during this international break. Young 17 year old academy winger Harry Wilson got his first cap for Wales in their final qualifier against Belgium, being Wales’ youngest debutant, surpassing Gareth Bale’s record in the process – if Wilson can become half or a quarter of Bale’s current standard, the Reds will have a gem on their hands, a big if.
Liverpool’s England duo Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge got a goal each during the final two qualifiers which got the Three Lions to the World Cup. Lucas Leiva got to don Brazil’s national jersey once again, playing his part in their wins over South Korea and Zambia in Asia. Less positive news sees Luis Suarez’s Uruguay, Victor Moses’ Nigeria and Mamadou Sakho’s France having to play-off for their spots in next summer’s showpiece event. Nonetheless, they are still in with a chance.
Positives Back Home
The best news out of the international break came from Melwood itself. The return to the squad of Glen Johnson, Aly Cissokho and Joe Allen could not come at a better time for the Reds, who need to carry on from where they left off less than two weeks ago. Momentum needs to be maintained. Johnson, if fit and ready, will surely reprise his role in the team, whether as the right wing-back in Brendan Rodgers’ recent 3-4-1-2 formation, or as the right full-back in the more standard-looking 4-2-3-1.
Aly Cissokho’s return will allow Rodgers some tinkering at left-back; though Jose Enrique is really on form now and will definitely not be dropped, barring injury. For Rodgers, at least he has some peace of mind in the fact he does not have to place man mountain Mamadou Sakho at left-back, as the France international awkward showing in the defeat to Southampton proved.
Along with Cissokho, Allen can only hope for a place on the bench for the visit to Newcastle. His presence in the squad is needed, as sooner or later, one of Gerrard or Lucas will have to be rested or brought off by Rodgers, their legs tiring from having to play as a midfield duo.
Positive news does not stop there. The imminent return of Philippe Coutinho, which Rodgers explained as most probable for the visit of West Bromwich the following weekend, is one that Reds fans want to see, with much excitement. Though Moses has filled in as the no.10 commendably during the recent switch in formation, Coutinho will still go straight back in as this role is made for him.
With most of the Reds’ squad coming back from internationals on a high, and key players returning from injury, Liverpool must take the Newcastle game seriously.
The form of Loic Remy is one Rodgers should be worried about, and the fact that Papiss Cisse might awake from his slumber any moment and knick a goal should further worry the manager and his defence. Moussa Sissoko and Yohan Cabaye are classy midfield players that, given the opportunity, can score from outside the area, meaning that Lucas and Gerrard must be on their toes to stop them. Rodgers might suggest to one of his three centre-backs to step out and aid the midfielders in this aspect as well.
Liverpool have to be solid defensively to have a chance in this game, but the movement of the ball towards the forwards is equally important. Slow build-up will see the Magpies’ midfielders hound them quickly, with Sissoko and Chieck Tiote’s athleticism and bite sure to come to the fore. Rodgers needs his back-line to get the ball to the feet of Suarez and Sturridge as soon as possible, in order to push the team up and compress the middle area of the pitch. By-passing Gerrard and Lucas may be necessary too, as absurd as that may be thought.
The 6-0 rout last season will not be repeated, even if Liverpool have Luis Suarez back now. A routine victory would be appreciated, but another important matter is that Liverpool must show they can play for 90 minutes and not just for the first-half. It will be very much welcome if the Reds can score in the second-half as well. 7 games in, with pre-season well behind them, fitness cannot be an excuse for the Reds not to play for the full 90. Even Sturridge must be fully fit now, even without a proper pre-season, having played almost a dozen games already. Staying as high up in the table for as long as possible can only help the Reds and Rodgers in their top 4 aspirations.