By Séamus Leonard
After yet another dreadful week in the recent history of Liverpool Football Club, attention will thankfully return to the field of play when the Reds travel to St James’ Park to lock horns with a Newcastle United side still flirting with the possibility of relegation.
With the FA releasing its hopelessly flawed written reasons for banning Luis Suarez for 10 games, everyone can, hopefully, begin to move on from what has been a trying affair for all concerned.
When the dust settles, the simple fact is that Liverpool must make do without the services of its number seven for the rest of the season. The Uruguayan’s absence will only add to the sense of anti-climax around Anfield, which may disappear briefly for the duration of next weekend’s Merseyside derby against Everton.
The events that have transpired over the past few days mean that Daniel Sturridge has a lot more football in his immediate future than may have otherwise been the case. The striker was hugely impressive when he came off the bench against his former club (Chelsea) last Sunday, scoring a goal, providing the assist for Suarez’s last-gasp equalizer, and also cracking a vicious left-footed drive off the upright.
Sturridge hit the ground running after his move from Stamford Bridge in January, but a couple of niggly injuries have since hindered his progress. Now, though, Liverpool will be looking to him to lead the line and show he has the ability to perform, and most importantly score, on a consistent basis.
Managers in charge of clubs with no hope left of silverware usually use this period of the season to experiment and give young fringe players the opportunity to stake a claim for a first team place. Whatever about trying out youngsters, there certainly is a case for affording the likes of Sebastian Coates and Jonjo Shelvey some game time. The latter was brought on last week, but the pair has seen precious little action since Christmas, and now would seem an opportune time to let them make a mark. Rodgers has relied on a core of 15 or 16 players during this campaign, and there is an argument to rest some of the more senior players as a disappointing season nears its conclusion.
While Liverpool’s season peters out, the hosts find themselves still in danger of the dreaded drop. With 37 points accrued and four games to play, Toon fans will be reasonably confident that they can get the necessary results to ensure survival. And given Liverpool’s recent dip in form and the turbulent week the Reds have endured, Alan Pardew and his charges will fancy their chances of repeating last season’s win over the same opponents.
That is a game Liverpool fans would rather forget, as their side lost 2-0 and had to endure the humiliating sight of striker Andy Carroll leaving the pitch close to tears at his hometown club and another former Magpie, Jose Enrique, taking over goalkeeping duties after Pepe Reina had been dismissed.
However, should Newcastle fail to collect three points, Pardew & Co. will find themselves in increased difficulty as their last three games include visits to West Ham United and Queens Park Rangers before Arsenal, still vying for a Champions League spot, visit Tyneside on the final day of the season.
If you are in the greater Boston area, you will be able to watch the match at The Phoenix Landing with LFC Boston. If not, you can watch it on Fox Soccer, with coverage starting at 1000 EST.
Newcastle United v Liverpool
When: Saturday, April 27, 1230 EST/1730 GMT
Where: St James’ Park, Newcastle
Previous Premier League match: West Brom 1-1 Newcastle United, Liverpool 2-2 Chelsea
League Position 2012-13: Newcastle 16th (37 points), Liverpool 7th (51 points)
Projected Newcastle Starting 11
DEF: Debuchy, S Taylor, Yanga-Mbiwa, Haidara
MID: Gouffran, Cabaye, Tiote, Gutierrez
FW: Sissoko, Cisse
Subs from: Harper, Williamson, Anita, Ben Arfa, Gosling, Obertan, Shola Ameobi, Campbell
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Jose Enrique
MID: Gerrard, Lucas, Henderson
FW: Downing, Sturridge, Coutinho
Subs from: Jones, Skrtel, Wisdom, Coates, Coady, Shelvey, Suso, Assaidi, Sterling, Borini
Follow Séamus Leonard on Twitter @seamusleonard