1 April ~ The meeting between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park today will surely be a tale of the law of the returning hero. A number of ex-Newcastle players are now on the books of Liverpool. Andy Carroll moved from Tyneside to Merseyside in the dying seconds of last season's January transfer window, and José Enrique followed in the summer. Craig Bellamy is in his second spell at Liverpool, having joined from Manchester City on a free at the start of the season. Carroll, the £35 million man, while seemingly still the butt of jokes all over the nation, remains a dangerous opponent and appears to be finally finding his feet.
The loss of Newcastle's captain and totemic centre-half Fabricio Coloccini to injury for this game will be felt all the more for Carroll's presence. Bellamy remains most likely to turn the knife however. He always seems to do well against the Magpies and probably rivals Luis Suárez as Kenny Dalglish's best signing of his current spell in charge, though none are as bad as the popular hysteria suggests.
It is to Dalglish that the real bitterness is felt in Newcastle though. Despite guiding Newcastle to an unlikely second-place league finish and a Champions League spot in his first season as manager there, he is remembered for dismantling the best Newcastle side in recent memory, replacing Les Ferdinand, Faustino Asprilla and David Ginola with Andreas Andersson and over-40s versions of Ian Rush and John Barnes. He is compared not with Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan, but with vandals like Graeme Souness and Sam Allardyce whose actions, like Dalglish's, took the club years to get over.
After the fury unleashed by Carroll's sale, and Enrique's comment on his departure that he feared for the future of Newcastle because of a lack of ambition and player departures, the club have to be happy with how the intervening months have gone. Despite departures and the investment of only a fraction of the money spent by Liverpool, Newcastle find themselves level with fifth-place Chelsea and eight points clear of Liverpool with only eight games remaining of the season.
Anything less than a victory for Liverpool would probably mean Newcastle ending this season ahead of them, though whether that could be sustained in seasons to come should Liverpool continue to spend the same money as they have since Dalglish took over remains to be seen.
While Newcastle's front three of Demba Ba, Papiss Cissé and Hatem Ben Arfa hit form last week, looking unplayable at times away to West Brom, a shortage of centre-halves going into this game means that goals are probable at both ends. The differing expectations of the two clubs mean that Newcastle would accept Europa League qualification with glee, though they are still currently in the hunt for a top-four spot and show no sign of falling away.
In contrast Liverpool, further down the table and on a poor run of league form since the turn of the year, are fixated on a Champions League qualification place. Something must change for them soon if they are not to slip further down the table. Mark Brophy