Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool face Newcastle United at St James’ Park on Saturday ahead of a huge encounter with Real Madrid in the Champions League just three days later. Ben Twelves takes a look at the numerous team selection options available to the Reds boss.
Liverpool head north to take on an improving Newcastle team in their tenth game of the Premier League season, and the Reds arrive with a much needed boost of confidence off the back of a dramatic League Cup turnaround on Tuesday night.
It’s been an indifferent opening start to the campaign for Rodgers’ side, with Liverpool still searching for the next level of performance and any form of consistency within the displays continuing to evade them, but the Liverpool manager will be hoping that the last-gasp victory against Swansea provides the platform for his team to build on.
The Reds travel to St James’ Park unbeaten in their last four league games, but having commanded only two wins. Such is the random nature of the Premier League, Liverpool still currently lay just two points outside of the Champions League places despite a largely frustrating start to the season.
A quick upturn in results and the Reds would find themselves leading the chasing pack for that all important top four finish, and a positive result Saturday to back up the win in midweek would be a good place to start.
With the small matter of Real Madrid away on Tuesday night however, Rodgers faces some interesting decisions over the team selection for the match.
Jose Enrique has joined Daniel Sturridge, Mamadou Sakho, Jon Flanagan and Suso in the treatment room as the Spaniard has a problem with his knee.
Steven Gerrard is set to recommence his duties in the Liverpool midfield after being rested in midweek for the Capital One Cup fixture against Swansea, and the Reds captain could be joined by any of Joe Allen, Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho.
Henderson captained the Reds on a difficult but morale-boosting night and he will be hoping to keep his place in the starting team on Saturday afternoon having dropped to the bench for the goalless draw with Hull.
Coutinho was the Rodgers’ brightest spark in midweek, and the Brazilian, who was also benched last Saturday, certainly staked his claim for a starting berth at St James’ Park.
Mario Balotelli finally grabbed his second goal in a Red shirt – hopefully providing the Italian with a desire to score more goals to his game – and he’s likely to come back into the starting XI after being named amongst the substitutes for the cup clash.
Rodgers now has a genuine chance to hand Balotelli the mobile strike partner he needs by showing faith in Fabio Borini, who produced a tireless display and provided the assist for his fellow-countryman’s equaliser.
Rodgers: "With Daniel Sturridge out, it's a miss but it gives opportunities to others. Fabio Borini was outstanding the other night."
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) October 30, 2014
The Line Up
Simon Mignolet looks set to replace Brad Jones, despite the Australian keeper doing little wrong in the game, and a changed back four could also return to a familiar look.
Javier Manquillo’s recent flurry of action should see him relegated to the bench after he looked tired at the end of the match on Tuesday, therefore Glen Johnson – who continues to raise eyebrows with decent performances on his unnatural side – will likely move to right back, allowing Alberto Moreno to come back into the team at left back.
Dejan Lovren will hopefully be boosted by scoring his first goal for the club on Tuesday, but there’s a case for Kolo Toure to continue next to the Croatian after the Ivorian marshalled the back four well alongside Lovren in midweek.
Rodgers has a wealth of options in midfield to choose from, but the Liverpool manager needs to move away from the 4-2-3-1 formation in order to utilise the strength in depth available, and maximise the potential at his disposal.
Doing this should see a diamond midfield of Gerrard at the bottom with Henderson and Can ahead. Coutinho’s 90 minutes in midweek could see the Liverpool manager choose to play Raheem Sterling from the start and that would allow the Brazilian to impact from the bench.
As a result of the change in shape, the Reds can play two up front – something that seems to suit almost everyone – and Balotelli should be joined by Borini, who’s performance in midweek warrants a chance in the Premier League.
Those changes would allow Liverpool to introduce fresh legs to the side, rest players ahead of Tuesday and it would see them line up like this:
Alternatively, the Liverpool boss should play a 4-3-3 system like so:
However, I expect Rodgers to continue with the 4-2-3-1 shape and line the Reds up like so:
Saturday’s game hands Liverpool with the chance to take confidence from the midweek comeback and make it three wins from four league games after a slow start to the season.
The fixtures keep coming thick and fast for Rodgers’ side – with Saturday being the 5th in a hectic three week period – and though it will be a tough game ahead of a mammoth encounter in Madrid on Tuesday, it’s one that presents Liverpool with a chance to begin a surge up the Premier League table.
THEMED XI: Players to have played for both Liverpool and Newcastle