Liverpool v Newcastle Utd, Sunday, 4pm
3 November ~ Just as it seemed Liverpool were turning things around after a pitiful start to the season, Wednesday's League Cup defeat to Swansea reminded Brendan Rodgers of the size of the task at hand. Cursing of the thinness of his squad is one thing but the stubborn refusal of any of his fringe players to cover themselves in glory is a much greater concern. Joe Cole is becoming the most heavily paid has-been in the club's history, while Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson continue to show the commitment of two old nags lolloping out to pasture.
Still, it's not all bad news. Luis Suárez, Rodgers' sole fit striker at senior level, has been putting in some mighty performances of late, despite some of the most appalling criticism from people who should really know better. And Liverpool's upward swing in results over these past few weeks suggests that Rodgers' dogged insistence on playing the game his way may be finally getting through to the players. Factor in the emergence of genuinely fine talents like Suso and Raheem Sterling and us fans can be cautiously optimistic about the rest of the campaign.
That said, Liverpool are still over-reliant on the Gerrard-Suárez axis, our home form (four defeats already this campaign) is stuttering at best and, for all the neat soundbites and impressive declarations of ambition, the jury remains out on Rodgers. A further Anfield reverse this weekend will offer the first real challenge to the fans' patience. It's another two months before he can hunt for those desperately needed squad reinforcements, with no guarantee Rodgers can land the players he wants.
The plus side of tomorrow's fixture is that Liverpool have a very strong record against Newcastle at home. We've won the previous seven league meetings at Anfield, while you have to go back to 1994 for the last home loss. Newcastle aren't quite the sweeping force of last season either, struggling themselves to a last-minute win against West Brom last week. But, at tenth spot in the table (two higher than Liverpool), there's a feeling that they're finally picking up momentum. Ryan Taylor, Cheick Tioté and Dan Gosling are all out, and the Premier League's top scorer Demba Ba is trying to shake off a calf injury.
Whatever the line-ups, this is still likely to prove a stern test of each team's resolve. The overriding impression is that Liverpool have more to lose in this game than Newcastle. Rob Hughes