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    Newcastle United vs Liverpool Match Preview

    Newcastle head coach Steve McClaren faces one of the most difficult challenges of his managerial career on Sunday when his struggling team play an in-form Liverpool side in the first of two matches that are likely to determine his future at the club. It has been reported that the former England boss has two games to save his job and his first assignment couldn't be much tougher as it involves stopping a rampant Liverpool team who have already scored 10 goals in their last two away matches.

    McClaren has struggled to turn around the club's fortunes in his 14 league matches as Newcastle boss, winning just twice and suffering eight defeats, the last of which was a 5-1 loss last Saturday to Crystal Palace. The Magpies sit second-bottom of the Premier League, have conceded 30 goals in the league and suffered an early exit in the Capital One Cup at home to Sheffield Wednesday. At least the 54-year-old will be hoping to make the most of home advantage on Sunday as his next challenge is a trip to White Hart Lane to face a Tottenham side, whose form is equally impressive having not lost in the league since the opening match of the season against Manchester United.

    The visit of Liverpool could not have come at a worse time for McClaren, who was appointed head coach in the hope he could bring about a change in the club's fortunes following an abject finish to last season. The contrast between his 16 matches in charge of Newcastle and Klopp's 11 at Liverpool could not be much starker. Klopp's first priority was to make his new side tougher to beat, which he accomplished immediately, and it wasn't until his seventh match in charge that he finally tasted defeat. Having sorted out the club's defensive troubles that plagued his predecessor Brendan Rodgers, all that was needed was a sprinkling of magic dust, provided by the likes of Coutinho, Lallana and Firmino to devastating effect in the away wins over Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton.

    The victory over Southampton on Wednesday night in the Capital One Cup saw a first start since the beginning of October for Daniel Sturridge, who scored two goals in the 6-1 hammering. Klopp's selection headache for Sunday increased even further when Divock Origi showed his capabilities for the first time in a Liverpool shirt, scoring a hat-trick and looking every bit the player who helped Belgium reach the World Cup quarter-finals in 2014. With Christian Benteke doing little wrong himself to deserve being dropped for the St James' Park encounter, it will be interesting to see which of the three players gets the nod to start the match on Sunday.

    Philippe Coutinho, who remains a doubt with a hamstring injury, will be a big loss for Liverpool on Sunday but it was a setback they handled so spectacularly on Wednesday night as well as in the narrow victories over Bordeaux and Swansea. His injury is likely to give Roberto Firmino a longer run in Klopp's Premier League XI, while Lucas Leiva's return from suspension coincides with Emre Can missing the match for similar reasons. Such has been the form of the likes of Can, James Milner, Joe Allen, Lucas and Jordon Ibe, it has allowed Klopp the luxury of easing Captain Jordan Henderson back into first-team action, as he did with his short cameos against Swansea and Southampton.

    McClaren doesn't possess the sort of luxuries with team selection that Klopp currently enjoys, with no side in the Premier League having as many as the 10 injuries that the Magpies have sustained. The former England manager's biggest dilemma will be whether to recall Aleksandar Mitrovic to the starting XI after he was dropped against Crystal Palace, or stick with Papiss Cisse, who gave Newcastle the lead in last Saturday's 5-1 defeat. The rest of the team almost picks itself, with Yoan Gouffran, Florian Thauvin and Siem de Jong unlikely to force their way into the side despite heavy defeats in successive weeks.

    One man who has impressed for Newcastle is Georginio Wijnaldum, a scorer of seven goals for club and country so far this season. The Dutch international is Newcastle's biggest goal-threat from midfield and possesses the pace, power and strength that could cause Liverpool a whole host of problems on Sunday. Wijnaldum has already scored against Chelsea this season and his best day in a Newcastle shirt came when he scored four times in the 6-2 demolition of Norwich City. He makes well-timed runs into the box, is clinical in front of goal and his heading and shooting ability are two of his biggest assets.

    Another player who has caught the eye for Newcastle this season is Ayoze Perez, with Manchester United and Tottenham rumoured to be admirers of the 22-year-old. Perez is the Magpies' most technically-gifted player, possessing outstanding movement that causes havoc for opposition defenders and an impressive change of pace that allows him to make well-timed and subtle runs off the ball. The Spanish Under-21 international is not the most prolific of forwards, scoring just three times so far this season, but is an intelligent player, whose presence in the team will benefit his teammates. Liverpool will need to cut out the supply lines to the Spaniard and be vigilant each time he receives the ball as he has the capabilities to destroy any opposition.

    The player in the Liverpool team who seems the most transformed under Jurgen Klopp is Roberto Firmino, whose role on Sunday will be vital to the team in the absence of Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian's versatility has allowed him to play as a "false 9" away from home but Coutinho's injury will enable him to feature in a slightly deeper role supporting a more traditional "number 9". Like Perez, he possesses a footballing intelligence that allows him to produce clever and well-timed runs into pockets of space, making it difficult for the Newcastle defenders to pick him up. He always has a picture in his head, enabling him to find the perfect pass and link-up with the likes of Adam Lallana and Christian Benteke to devastating effect, especially on the counter-attack.

    A more unsung member of the Liverpool team under Klopp has been James Milner, who bought into the German's pressing game from the moment he first walked through the Anfield corridors. This makes him a key player, especially away from home when his ability to win back possession has been instrumental in setting-up counter-attacks from which the likes of Coutinho, Firmino and Benteke have profited. Milner has been an all-action midfielder under Klopp, possessing energy that has been infectious for the rest of the team in setting the tone in many of the club's impressive performances over the past seven weeks.

    Sunday's fixture will evoke memories of happier times for Newcastle fans, when they challenged for league titles in the mid-nineties, but were ultimately twice on the wrong side of a 4-3 scorelines. The match-up has kept up its excitement in the subsequent couple of decades, with a total of 132 goals scored in the 42 fixtures between the two sides since the inception of the Premier League. The first and most famous of the two 4-3 games, in April 1996, actually reversed Newcastle's dominance of the fixture, with the Magpies winning five and drawing two of the previous eight encounters. It began a run of 25 wins, 7 defeats and 7 draws for Liverpool including the most recent encounter in April 2015, where Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen scored the goals in a 2-0 win at Anfield.

    Newcastle go into the match with 10 players missing through injury, the latest being Mike Williamson who suffered a hamstring injury having been recalled from his spell on loan at Wolves. Cheick Tiote has not recovered from a groin strain in time and remains on the sidelines along with Gabriel Obertan, Jamaal Lascelles, Steven Taylor (all hamstring), Massadio Haidara, Tim Krul, Emmanuel Riviere (all knee), Rolando Aarons (ankle) and Curtis Good (hip). Liverpool do not have any new injury concerns, with Phillipe Coutinho a major doubt and likely to miss a fourth consecutive game with a hamstring injury, while Mamadou Sakho, Jon Flanagan, Danny Ings and Joe Gomez (all knee) remain long-term absentees.

    Score Prediction: Newcastle United 0-3 Liverpool
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    Item Reviewed: Newcastle United vs Liverpool Match Preview Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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