Picking a Liverpool team for Newcastle: Endo to start? Gakpo to miss out?
The Reds head to St James' Park on Sunday hoping to turn a decent start to the season into an excellent one
Can Liverpool turn a decent start to the new season into an excellent one this weekend?
Victory over Newcastle United on Sunday would do just that, for Jürgen Klopp’s side. The Magpies will, along with Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and, in all likelihood, Brighton & Hove Albion, be the Reds’ main rivals for a top-four finish, and so striking an early blow at St James’ Park is desirable, both for the points on offer and the psychological boost it would provide.
Liverpool’s away form last season was poor - they won only six of their 19 league matches on the road, losing eight - and fixing that will be high on Klopp’s list of demands this time around. The opening weekend draw at Chelsea, at least, suggests his players are responding a little better to adversity than previously.
Newcastle, though, represents a new test, and a big one at that. Eddie Howe’s side may have overachieved in pipping the Reds to fourth place last season, but they look ready to build on that success. A good summer transfer window was followed by a flying start to the campaign against Aston Villa, and though they were outgunned by champions Manchester City last weekend, there is little chance that the mood around St James’ will be dampened any time soon. There is, after all, a Champions League group stage draw on the horizon.
Klopp’s side, then, can expect a stern examination on Sunday afternoon. Liverpool may have done the double over Newcastle last season, but they were certainly made to work for both victories. Their home meeting, last August, was settled only by a dramatic 98th-minute winner from Fábio Carvalho, while the Reds had to ride out a storm on Tyneside in February, even after the first-half dismissal of Magpies ‘keeper Nick Pope with the score at 2-0.
Liverpool can expect similar aggression, physicality and hostility this time, too. Howe has built a robust, energetic side with pace in wide areas and good defensive organisation. Alexander Isak and Callum Wilson provide the goals, Kieran Trippier, Miguel Almiron, Anthony Gordon and Harvey Barnes load the bullets, Sven Botman ensures the back door is kept secure and, in the re-born Joelinton, the superb Bruno Guimarães and the summer signing Sandro Tonali, Newcastle boast one of the toughest midfields in the Premier League.
That’s the challenge Liverpool face, and it will be interesting to see what changes, if any, Klopp makes for Sunday’s game. The Reds have named the same starting XI twice so far this season, but the manager now has a decision or two on his hands…