Steve McClaren under pressure and defensive injuries aren’t helping
4 December ~ Sky must be rubbing their hands in glee. Sunday’s 4pm kick-off sees a Liverpool side who just knocked six past Southampton, after falling behind to an early goal, face Newcastle, who conceded five at the weekend after taking a tenth-minute lead at Crystal Palace.
The broadcasters love reminding viewers about the two rollercoaster 4-3 scorelines between the two teams nearly two decades ago. Those games, both wins for Liverpool, came at Anfield, and recent meetings at St James' have actually seen Newcastle do well. Last year Ayoze Pérez scored in a 1-0 win, and in 2013-14 Liverpool were made to fight for a 2-2 draw against a home side reduced to ten men shortly before half time.
Steve McClaren says confidence is “fragile" at St James’ and he urgently needs a second win in front of a home crowd. His recent argument that Newcastle have "made progress" has lost any credibility it may have briefly had. The 1-0 win at Bournemouth was lucky, while his side simply were not competitive against Leicester and Palace. If Newcastle remain in the bottom three by the time they face Everton at home on Boxing Day I would expect to see him forced out.
The crowd will want to see Newcastle attack Liverpool from the off, but that is probably exactly what Jürgen Klopp wants, judging by his success away from home compared to more conservative scorelines when his side play at Anfield.
While Liverpool can look forward to Daniel Sturridge’s league return, McClaren had to bring much-lamented Mike Williamson back from his loan spell at Wolves to try and shore up his defence. But Williamson has already picked up an injury which rules him out today while fellow defenders Jamaal Lascelles and Steven Taylor are also unavailable. It leaves Chancel Mbemba and fading captain Fabricio Coloccini as the only options tasked with keeping Klopp’s attackers at bay. At the moment, that does not inspire much confidence.
In attack McClaren has got some options to change things. Siem de Jong, who joined from Ajax last summer, has yet to be given a chance to prove himself. His apparent keenness to play for the under-21s to show what he can do suggests that he deserves a chance to start, instead of 20 minutes when his side are already 4-1 down. His brother, Luuk, made no impact at St James’ during a loan spell in 2013-14, but has since found his scoring touch at PSV. With only one league start since last August, Siem should get a chance to redeem the family name on Tyneside. Simon Meechan