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Why Thiago vs. ‘Thiago’ could be key battle in Newcastle vs. Liverpool

Newcastle‘s record in 2022 is bettered only by Liverpool and Man City, but can the Magpies pose a big threat to the Reds’ Premier League title hopes this weekend?

Jurgen Klopp‘s men stayed within one point of City last Sunday, picking up a gritty 2-0 win over Merseyside rivals Everton.

Next up for Liverpool is their trip to Newcastle on Saturday lunchtime, with Eddie Howe excelling since taking charge of the newly rich club.

The moral aspect of the Magpies’ takeover may be questionable, but there is no denying that they are on the verge of slowly becoming a force in English football.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, we spoke to Newcastle fan and writer Dave Black (@cm9798) to hear about the takeover, Liverpool and much more.

 

How do you assess Newcastle’s season so far?

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 8, 2022: Newcastle United's Kieran Trippier during the FA Premier League match between Newcastle United FC and Everton FC at St. James’ Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We’ve gone from being practically relegated at Christmas to the top half – it has been a remarkable turnaround over the last four months, in particular.

From the doom and gloom of the Mike Ashley-Steve Bruce axis of doom to what we have now, it is really night and day.

Matchday is no longer a chore, there is a unity on and off the pitch and a real feeling that we’re a club going somewhere.

Quite where that is and how far we can go remains to be seen, but this season has turned out better than any of us expected.

 

Is Howe the man to lead the Magpies going forward?

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 8, 2022: Newcastle United's manager Eddie Howe during the FA Premier League match between Newcastle United FC and Everton FC at St. James’ Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I think you would have to say yes, based on what he’s achieved so far.

I’ve seen a lot of ‘well they spent a fortune to get out of trouble’, but I think that’s doing Eddie Howe a huge disservice.

He inherited an unfit, down-trodden squad that looked destined for the Championship, so he deserves a huge amount of credit for orchestrating the turnaround along with the backroom staff he brought with him.

Yes, the new signings have helped, but we’ve only spent what we should have spent on average over the past few seasons – when you consider our only signing in the previous two windows was Joe Willock, twice.

What’s really impressed me though is the improvement in players who had more or less been written off.

 

What are your thoughts on the takeover, both as a fan and morally?

New Newcastle United chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan waves the supports prior to kick-off in the Premier League match at St. James' Park, Newcastle. Picture date: Sunday October 17, 2021.

It’s a difficult one because as a fan (and I mean purely shutting out everything else) it’s the best thing that could have happened to the football club and even the city.

There’s a real chance for investment both on and off the field and the club will be in a great position going forwards.

Morally though I find it difficult to ignore. I hope PIF owning more and more of the world will result in a drive for change over there, but I don’t know if it’s likely.

Maybe we can do something with the flag displays in future to try and make a positive change, but a football fan shouldn’t have to worry about getting into geopolitics on a Saturday afternoon.

 

Who have been Newcastle’s best players this season?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, December 16, 2021: Newcastle United's Joelinton Cássio Apolinário de Lira during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It feels like our season only started in January, so this will have a lopsided look to it, but Joelinton has gone from a bit of a joke to a fans’ favourite.

I should probably say Allan Saint-Maximin who has carried us through thick and thin (or Bruce and Howe, if you prefer) but can I say Bruno Guimaraes?

He’s far too good for us.

You will know this from watching Liverpool every week but when you see a player who is a cut above everybody else it’s apparent from the off – I imagine you will have felt the same about Thiago.

Dan Burn arrived in January to very little fanfare, but he’s made a huge difference to our back line – pun intended.

Matt Targett has also been a revelation since joining on loan from Aston Villa, while Kieran Trippier would definitely be in had he not got injured after four games.

 

Who has struggled?

Newcastle United's Jamaal Lascelles applauds the fans after the final whistle - Richard Sellers/EMPICS Sport

Everybody struggled in the early part of the season it’s fair to say.

Some, such as Ciaran Clark and Jamal Lewis, have found themselves unregistered from the Premier League squad as a result of the new arrivals.

Willock struggled to adapt after making his move permanent, but like so many of his colleagues, he has improved in the last few months.

Chris Wood is probably the only January signing who the jury is out on.

He has only scored twice but his general presence has been good – certainly better than the alternative which would have been many months of Dwight Gayle.

Club captain Jamal Lascelles has lost his place in the team, partly due to iffy form but he isn’t as good on the ball as Burn or Fabian Schar, so it will be interesting to see if he retains the armband over the summer.

 

How highly do you rate this Liverpool side?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 24, 2022: Liverpool's Andy Robertson (C) celebrates with team-mates Mohamed Salah (L) and Luis Díaz (R) after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Everton FC, the 240th Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by Lindsey Parneby/Propaganda)

It’s an incredible squad of players and certainly one of the best we’ve ever seen both at Premier League and Champions League level.

It’s a shame that Man City are also performing similarly, as we inevitably end up comparing two great sides instead of lauding them as two of the most ruthless sides we have ever seen.

For any team to be in with a chance of the quadruple at this stage of the season speaks volumes – and it would be a travesty if you don’t add more to the League Cup over the next few weeks.

 

Where do you see the key battles taking place?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 10, 2022: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We actually play yourselves and City in consecutive weeks and possibly for the first time ever I’m looking forward to both, not because I think we will win but it will be a true test of where this team really is.

I think we will defend deep and try and catch you on the break, hopefully without the histrionics of Everton.

I expect you will rotate the side with us being the meat in a Champions League sandwich, but I would like to see Bruno and Joelinton go up against Fabinho and Thiago, as well as seeing how our full-backs cope with yours and your wide players.

Playing against Liverpool is probably the greatest challenge in the league.

There’s scope for every outfield player being involved in an attack, so I’m fascinated to see if we manage to cope with it.

 

Finally, what’s your prediction?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, December 16, 2021: Liverpool's Diogo Jota celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I think Liverpool will win. Narrowly though.

I can see us trying to keep it tight for a while, possibly against jaded legs, before our resistance is eventually broken.

We went to Stamford Bridge and didn’t give them much of a sniff until the very last minute when Burn lost his concentration, so we know it can be done.

Even though we don’t really need to play for a point, I think Howe knows it would be stupid to try and go punch for punch with you.

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