An unstoppable winning machine for two months, Liverpool were brought crashing to Earth on Wednesday night when losing 3-0 to Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals, even though the final score did not reflect a generally impressive performance from the Reds. Alas, they must put that disappointment behind them and seize the opportunity to return to the top of the Premier League when they visit Newcastle tonight, with Manchester City not in action until Monday.
A lot has been made of the Rafael Benítez factor and whether the Magpies boss would do his former club a turn. The Spaniard is not known for doing sentiment, though, and Liverpool fans would be naive to expect anything but a rigorous test of their abundant qualities at St James’ Park. Their recent record on Tyneside does not make for pleasant viewing, either. Our statistical analysis looks back on previous meetings between the teams and identifies key trends from recent games.
Last six Premier League games
Newcastle: W2, D2, L2, F7, A7, Pts 8
Liverpool: W6, D0, L0, F16, A3, Pts 18
Liverpool’s defeat in Barcelona ended a sequence of 10 consecutive wins in all competitions, although they still bring a seven-game Premier League winning run to the north-east with them. It was two months ago yesterday when they last dropped points, that in a 0-0 draw at Everton, but they have had the galling misfortune of Manchester City matching them every step of the way since then. The Reds haven’t been breached once in their last three league games, with Southampton’s Shane Long the last player to score past Alisson Becker in the Premier League on 5 April.
Newcastle’s recent record is very much middle of the road, with two wins, two draws and two defeats. Those eight points felt very significant, though, as they enabled the Geordies to avoid a nerve-wracking relegation battle going into the conclusion of the season. After three games without a win from March going into April, Newcastle are now unbeaten in three and will feel they ought to have a three-game winning run going into this game, only to concede late in the 1-1 draw at Brighton last week.
Premier League head-to-head record
Liverpool have endured plenty of frustration at St James’ Park in recent times. Their last eight visits have yielded only two wins, with two draws and four defeats in that time. On the rare occasions that they have won on Tyneside, they have been emphatic; their last two victories at the venue were 5-1 in 2008 and 6-0 in 2013. They have had plenty of miserable days in Newcastle, though, such as the 2-0 loss in 2012 when they ended with nine men, as well as two-goal defeats in which Andy Carroll (3-1 in 2010) and Georginio Wijnaldum (2-0 in 2015) scored for the Mapgies against their future employers.
On the whole, though, Liverpool have had the better of it against the men from the north-east in the Premier League era. Newcastle’s last league win at Anfield is now more than 25 years ago and they lost 2-0 on their two previous visits to Merseyside. The fixture invariable evokes memories of that epic 4-3 clash in April 1996, when Stan Collymore’s stoppage-time winner went a long way to sinking Newcastle’s title challenge. Liverpool will hope that the shoe is not on the other foot this time around.
Last St James’ Park meeting
Newcastle 1-1 Liverpool, 1 October 2017
A full 19 months have passed since Liverpool last visited St James’ Park and the landscape has changed significantly for the Reds since then. At the time, Jürgen Klopp’s men were enduring a frustrating start to the season and arrived on Tyneside on a run of only one win out of six in all competitions.
Philippe Coutinho fired the visitors in front with a stunning long-range goal just before the half-hour mark but Liverpool’s lead was short-lived. Seven minutes later, ex-Red Jonjo Shelvey played through Joselu, who exposed a gaping hole in the Merseysiders’ defence. Joël Matip got back to make a challenge but his attempted clearance ricocheted off the Spanish striker and rolled gently into the Liverpool net.
Klopp’s frustration was increased by the inexplicable failure of referee Craig Pawson to award what looked like two stonewall penalties in the first half, but while Liverpool dominated possession, their wasteful nature and defensive lapses ensured that their early season woes would continue, whereas Premier League returnees Newcastle were sitting comfortably in the top half.
Benítez v Liverpool: Rafa’s record against the Reds
P7, W2, D3, L2, F8, A11
Benítez has managed against Liverpool on seven previous occasions, the first two of which were with Valencia, the club that he left to go to Anfield 15 years ago. The La Liga side outclassed the Reds home and away in the first group stage of the 2002/03 Champions League, winning 2-0 at the Mestalla and 1-0 in the return on Merseyside a few weeks later. It was the success of Benítez at Valencia which propelled him to the consciousness of Europe’s elite clubs. Only three of the last 19 La Liga titles were won by clubs other than Real Madrid or Barcelona, and two of those were claimed by Rafa during his time with Valencia.
Three years after being sacked by Liverpool in 2010, Benítez returned to Anfield as manager of Chelsea. His appointment during the 2012/13 season was not well received by Blues supporters given his Liverpool links, but he claimed a 2-2 draw against his former club towards the end of a short stint that culminated with him guiding Chelsea to Europa League glory. That was the day when Luis Suárez made headlines not for his 96th-minute equaliser but for an earlier bite on Branislav Ivanovic, the second of three such offences during the Uruguayan’s career.
Almost three years to the day after that tempestuous affair, Benítez was back at Anfield in charge of Newcastle, who battled back from 2-0 down to claim a share of the spoils but were unable to stave off relegation to the Championship a short time later. The Spaniard guided Newcastle back to the top flight at the first attempt and took his unbeaten run against Liverpool to five matches with the aforementioned 1-1 draw in October 2017.
However, he has lost his two most recent games when up against the Reds. Liverpool beat Newcastle 2-0 at Anfield last season and, when the sides met on Merseyside at Christmas, the Reds romped to a 4-0 victory that put them six points clear at the top of the Premier League. If that was the state of affairs today, a draw tonight would have confirmed Liverpool as champions. Alas, they must win both of their remaining fixtures and hope for a favour from Leicester or Brighton.
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