Saturday's early afternoon kick-off sees second in the league Liverpool travel to 11th placed Newcastle. Liverpool have been in excellent form of late and will want to get all three points to put pressure on the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal, whilst Newcastle will want to build on their recent 1-2 win over Cardiff City. Liverpool unsurprinsgly go into the tie as big favourites at 1.82 for the win, with the home side available at 4.25.
Newcastle manage Alan Pardew might re-shuffle his side somewhat ahead of this tie. Papiss Cisse could miss out with Hatem Ben Arfa likely to come in for him, leaving Loic Remy to lead the line on his own having netted five times this season..
Liverpool have looked to implement a 3-5-2 formation, meaning we can expect Daniel Sturridge to continue to partner Luis Suarez up front. Liverpool do not have any fresh injury concerns so we could see the same line-up that featured in the 3-1 win over Crystal Palace.
Since the return of Luis Suarez from suspension, Brendan Rodgers has set his side up in a relatively fluid 3-5-2 formation so that he can link up the inform Daniel Sturridge with the controversial Uruguayan. If we observe the average positions of the Liverpool players from the 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace we can see this first-hand:
In this formation Suarez (7) and Sturridge (15) are very much a front two in the traditional sense, with both players interchanging at will. The system appears to be bearing fruits with Liverpool having picked up six points in the two games since Suarez's return. Suarez has netted three times in the two games and Sturridge has scored twice, as well as assisting two goals (both to Suarez).
Liverpool have scored six times since these two forwards have been linked up, which will be a major concern for Alan Pardew's side given that they have let in 12 goals - the third highest number conceded by any Premier League side this season.
Newcastle's attacking threat through Hatem Ben Arfa
The concern for Liverpool in this formation is that they've failed to keep a clean sheet since the return of Luis Suarez. Liverpool's back three is doing quite well but they can be threatened on the flanks given that they are operating with wing-backs, who do not get any real cover from the midfielders.
The wing-backs are essentially given the role of the full-backs and wingers from a conventional 4-4-2, so are performing a duel task. Luis Enrique will be doing this jobon the left hand side for Liverpool, but will have an incredibly tough outing given that he'll be up against one of Newcastle's most influential players in the mercurial Hatem Ben Arfa.
With Enrique unlikely to get much protection in Liverpool's 3-5-2 formation he could be vulnerable on the overlap with Ben Arfa’s international colleague Mathieu Debuchy being a keen runner from right-back. Ben Arfa likes to cut in from the left-flank, leaving space on the outside for Debuchy to burst into.
The French winger is the fifth top dribbler in the Premier League with an average of three take-ons per game, as well as having scored twice already this season - making him Newcastle's second top scorer. If Liverpool want to shackle Ben Arfa it might require his fellow countrymen Mamadou Sakho to come across to cover. If Sakho does this regularly though it could leave space between himself and Martin Skrtel for the in-form Loic Remy to exploit.
Newcastle and their off-colour defence will certainly have to be concerned about the 'SAS' partnership. Sturridge and Suarez have only had the two Premier League games together thus far but are quickly gaining a reputation as a formidable strike duo, whilst Newcastle haven't kept a clean sheet in their last four games.
It definitely looks like it will be an open game to kick off the Premier League's return.
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