Newcastle United head to Anfield to play title-chasers Liverpool on the back of a heavy 4-0 defeat at Leicester which Eddie Howe insisted flattered Leicester and didn't reflect the true nature of a game that The Magpies were very much in until Brendan Rodger's men benefitted from the kind of dodgy decision that has plagued the club's season.
Newcastle were on a high after a first win of the season against Burnley and playing a struggling Leicester side who had endured a difficult week of two defeats to Aston Villa and Napoli being knocked out of The Europa League to the European Conference League amid Covid19 and injury problems so the first goal of an evenly-contested game was always going to be crucial in terms of confidence.
And it arrived due to a controversial 39th minute penalty wrongly awarded by referee Peter Bankes to The Foxes's James Maddison, which VAR Paul Tierney equally wrongly and controversially didn't see as "a clear and obvious error" that all sensible football pundits and former referees like Keith Hackett and Dermot Gallagher on SKY Sports' News RefWatch agreed was a dive and simulation from the Leicester man which should not have been given as Premier League rules were changed in the summer so players couldn't "buy" penalties by doing exactly what Maddison did and look for contact:
After that goal which put the wind in Leicester's sails, Newcastle's confidence and resistance largely eroded as The Foxes hit some form with Youri Tielemans the star of the show with a brace & Maddison & striker Patson Daka adding the other two goals.
Newcastle fans were rightly concerned when Mike Dean from The Wirral on Merseyside was appointed referee of the game in an area where he lives and is surrounded by family and friends who support the Anfield club although is a professed Tranmere fan.
Against Liverpool and Manchesters City and United coming up next, Newcastle will have to strengthen their defensive resolve and change both shape and personnel if The Magpies are going to get anything except heavy defeats from the next three games and Howe stressed the importance of having a solid defensive shape in his presser:
Isaac Hayden, who has been a notable absence in Eddie Howe's starting line-ups so far, must come into the team in defensive midfield to add some defensive steel and I expect Howe will start with three centre backs as well - Fabian Schar, Jamaal Lascelles and Emil Krafth - to combat Liverpool's awesome attacking threat.
Newcastle managed to draw 1-1 with The Reds at Anfield last season and drew 0-0 as well in the corresponding game at St James' Park under Steve Bruce's management playing 5-3-2 away and 5-4-1 at home but both games were in the behind-closed-doors nature of the Covid19 season which everybody hopes doesn't become a reality again this year with one or two games beginning to be called off due to the Omicron variant.
With the January transfer window just around the corner, some Newcastle fans are joking they would accept the season being delayed until the chance to buy some new recruits arrives but if approached the right way, its not beyond the realms of possibility to get a result at Anfield, a ground where Newcastle haven't won in the Premier League since 1994 when Robert Lee and Andy Cole scored the goals for Kevin Keegan's men:
although the last win in any competition for Newcastle at Anfield was two seasons later in 1995 when Steve Watson popped up with this remarkable solo goal to stun the 40,000 crowd and send Newcastle through to the next round of the League Cup:
Since those heady days of Keeganmania, Newcastle's record at Anfield has been a poor one like most visiting sides in all fairness particularly in the Jurgen Klopp era with the exception of last season without the famous crowd's presence although Rafa Benitez and Alan Pardew both took points from Anfield in 2016 and 2013 respectively.
Right now, Klopp's Liverpool are second top of The Premier League and still its highest scorers with 33 goals in 16 games despite Man City's 7-0 defeat of Leeds last night having notched up some huge score-lines beating Man United 5-0 and Everton 4-1 away from home and Arsenal 4-0 at Anfield.
Yet they are not unbeatable as West Ham proved in a 3-2 win at The Olympic Stadium, Brighton managed to get a 2-2 draw at Anfield earlier in the year and The Reds could only manage very narrow 1-0 wins over Wolves and Aston Villa in December.
Interestingly, Eddie Howe and Newcastle have just poached Mark Leyland as a coach from Liverpool, a 36 year-old elite performance analyst with a growing reputation in the game who will have a more hands-on coaching approach at St James' Park and if anyone has the inside track on how to stop Liverpool's stars, its him.
Newcastle will have to bounce back from that Leicester loss yet despite the horrendous start to the season with just that one solitary win against Burnley, seven drawn games mean The Magpies are still just 3 points off the safety of 17th place with 22 games left to play and everything is very much still to play for with new recruits arriving in January.
In his pre-match press conference, Howe revealed that Argentine defender Fede Fernandez is injured and will likely miss the festive period and Paul Dummett is still not quite ready although the Geordie defender is making good progress:
After again stressing that the key moment of the Leicester game was the controversial penalty wrongly given, Howe was approaching Liverpool and Anfield with his usual optimism and quiet belief that Newcastle are capable of getting a result:
HoweAy The Lads.
Prediction - Newcastle 2 Liverpool 1