Weblog: The football punter

Liverpool's fab four should be the difference

Sky Sports Premier League 4.30pm Sunday

Rafael Benitez won the Champions League when he was manager of Liverpool but his targets at Newcastle are nowhere near as lofty and their lack of quality could be shown up by his former club.

Benitez is one of the best tacticians around and as long as he remains on Tyneside a swift return to the Sky Bet Championship would appear unlikely, but there is still an enormous gulf between the promoted hosts and the Premier League's big guns.

Liverpool, despite an inconsistent start, remain one of England's elite and the difference in ability between the teams' forward players is set to determine the destination of the points.

The defensive deficiencies in Liverpool's rearguard have been well-documented and they have gone six matches without a clean sheet in all competitions, but Newcastle don't appear to possess the players to take advantage.

It's one thing conceding goals to the likes of Manchester City, Sevilla and even Leicester and quite another to a Newcastle outfit who are fortunate to have nine points on the board following wins over West Ham, Swansea and Stoke.

Their three defeats - at Huddersfield and Brighton as well as at home to Tottenham - saw Benitez's boys fire blanks and even the Spaniard may not be able to come up with a plan which nullifies Liverpool's top-quality quartet of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and the returning Sadio Mane.

Those four started together for the first time in Tuesday's 1-1 draw away to Spartak Moscow in the Champions League when the result was extremely harsh on the Reds.

The expected goal rating for the match showed the truer reflection - one ExG had Liverpool "winning" 2.2-0.1 and another was 2.72-0.16 in favour of Jurgen Klopp's men.

If they continue to create that number of chances they will soon be flying up the Premier League and Champions League tables and Liverpool were worthy 3-2 winners on their last domestic trip to Leicester, particularly as Shinji Okazaki's goal should have been disallowed.

Coutinho was outstanding at the King Power and the link-up play between him and Mane could well be devastating.

Mane had been magnificent - he was voted as the Premier League's player of the month for August - before the game-changing red card at Manchester City stopped Liverpool in their tracks.

There is plenty in reserve too considering Daniel Sturridge cannot get a start and yet he would walk into Newcastle's side.

Joselu, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dwight Gayle all have their flaws at this level and explains why Benitez was so keen for further forward reinforcements in the summer.


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Match in Focus

19:45 Sa 26May

Real Madrid v Liverpool

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Real have won just one of their last four Champions League meetings against English opposition
Expert verdict
Real Madrid have lifted the Champions League in three of the past four seasons but they could struggle to retain their crown against a lively Liverpool. Real have been the dominant force in Europe, with last year’s 4-1 thumping of Juventus in the final in Cardiff showcasing their superiority. However, Zinedine Zidane’s men have not bumped into a front three like the Reds’ often - Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have netted 29 of their 40 Champions League goals this season - and they are vulnerable to the counter-attack.