London: Liverpool will look to return to sole possession of first place on points in the league table when it hosts struggling Newcastle United on Monday.
Even when Newcastle (9-8-2, 29 points) was constructing its first top-four finish in two decades last season, Liverpool (12-1-6, 42 points to tie with Aston Villa) had maintained superiority in these clubs’ head-to-head meetings.
And after rallying to a 2-1 away win with 10 men earlier this season on August 27, the Reds have now won their last five against the Magpies.
Add in Newcastle’s lengthy injury list — one that has contributed to a run of four defeats in the last five league matches while the Magpies also managed continental and domestic cup commitments — and Liverpool will be strong favourites to extend that streak.
But Reds manager Jurgen Klopp believes Eddie Howe’s Magpies are better than their recent results have shown.
“The games I saw — and the analysis only starts now really — they had really good spells, they have a really good idea. But at one point Eddie had to play too often the same line-up, definitely, that’s clear with all these games,” Klopp said. “It was pretty much the same lineup for a long, long time, and then the guys who play all the time get tired and the guys who come back have no rhythm.” Newcastle’s injury list remains lengthy. But influential midfielder Joelinton could return to the starting lineup for the first time in two weeks. He was on the bench in the Magpies’ home Boxing Day 3-1 defeat to Nottingham Forest, 10 days after he was forced off early in a 3-0 win at Fulham, Newcastle’s last league victory on Dec. 16.
The Magpies also have had six or more days between games for the first time since the November international window. And the Reds are without a half-dozen or so players themselves, while Alexis Mac Allister could return to the matchday squad following a knee issue that has kept him out since early December.
Another Liverpool absence is coming: This will be the last game for Mohammed Salah — who leads Liverpool with 12 league goals — before he departs for the Africa Cup of Nations.
But that won’t arrive in time for Howe, who is under no illusions of what it will take to earn any points where only Manchester United have done so this season.
“I think, for us, we need to be near-perfect in this game,” Howe said.
“They’ve performed really well at home especially, they’re consistent, a really good team. So for us, the challenge is that we need to re-find our best form and we need to be mentally very strong.”