Friday 18 October 2013
Ahead of Liverpool’s Barclays Premier League trip to Newcastle United on Saturday lunchtime, the former Reds midfielder and now BT Sport pundit Steve McManaman explained why he is expecting an open contest at St James’ Park, why the Merseysiders have made a high-flying start to the season and why Brendan Rodgers’ side can be considered title contenders.
"The way Liverpool are playing, with a very attacking line-up, they always look as if they will make chances"
Premierleague.com: Matches between Newcastle and Liverpool are among the highest scoring in the history of the Barclays Premier League. What sort of match are you expecting on Saturday?
Steve McManaman: Both teams have traditionally played entertaining football, which is great if you want an open game. The way Liverpool play, with a very attacking line-up, they always look as though they are going to make chances. Newcastle have been scoring goals and letting them in. They did that in their last performance at Everton, which suggests they will let goals in. Being at home they need a victory so it should make for an entertaining, attack-minded game and we'll all be happy as spectators, won't we?
PL.com: If Liverpool win they will go top of the League for a short while at the very least. Has their start to the season surprised you?
SM: Not really. Brendan Rodgers' acquisitions early in the transfer window were very good. But the business he did late on, acquiring Victor Moses, keeping Luis Suarez, bringing in [Mohamed] Sakho and Tiago Ilori, who looks very talented, was excellent, too. Liverpool’s fixtures at the start of the season looked winnable so their start hasn’t surprised me.
PL.com: Is that why it's been going well this early for Rodgers' side, they haven’t had too tough a start?
SM: Listen, they have played Manchester United at home, which is difficult, but they haven't played away at Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City or Tottenham, any of their rivals. Their fixtures so far, coupled with the signings and this new-found confidence, all have played a huge part so far. I haven't spoken to any bookmakers but I assume Liverpool will be favourites for Saturday's game and that says it all to be going up to St James' Park as favourites.
PL.com: What do you make of the way Liverpool play under Rodgers?
SM: All the players know their positions and the Liverpool fans are talking about when Coutinho, Glen Johnson and Joe Allen come back. The personnel now fit into this 5-3-2 formation, or his 3-5-2 formation, and it looks as though it gives them lots of attacking options. So it's very exciting. Liverpool can play this formation and also, if need be, can revert to 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 so they now have the ability to adapt and change things around.
"It's very exciting that Liverpool can play in this formation and revert to a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. They now have the ability to adapt and change things around"
PL.com: After a couple of 3-2 defeats by Hull and Everton, Newcastle got back on track with a win at Cardiff City. Who do you think Liverpool need to watch out for?
SM: The danger men are the attacking players: Hatem Ben Arfa; Loic Remy, who is scoring goals; Yohan Cabaye, who has been welcomed back into the squad and is a talented player. And when they play at St James' Park, with 50,000 screaming Geordies supporting them, it's always a very difficult place to go. The atmosphere is always great. It's up to the Liverpool players to keep the fans quiet. It's always such a great game against Liverpool: the history of the both teams, two big sides. The Geordies always get behind the team to do as much as they can to get them to win.
PL.com: Pardew has chopped and changed the side around this season with Cabaye, Papiss Cisse and Ben Arfa being left out this season, while Michael Williamson and Yanga-Mbiwa have been in and out at the back, with Steven Taylor suspended and then injured. Do you think Pardew knows what his best side is yet?
SM: If his whole team was fit and free of suspension, I think he knows his starting XI. But he's had to contend with Taylor being out, he's brought in Yanga-Mbiwa, who had a terrible game against Everton so he's back out. Ben Arfa's had his injury problems, but he's back in. In an ideal world the manager will know his perfect XI but it's very rarely like that. You have to chop and change, you're hoping to find a perfect scenario. If Loic Remy scores he's in. Papiss Cisse's had a dry patch so he's been in and out, so it's a difficult job being a Premier League manager, isn't it?
PL.com: If only second halves counted, Liverpool would be 19th in the League with four points, ahead of only Sunderland (one). How do you account for this statistic?
SM: I can't. You can make statistics to suit your point, but the main thing is you win your games. The only statistic I care about is who wins the three points. You can make things up by saying things like, Liverpool would be top by 10 points if you only count the first 10 minutes, but most of it is complete nonsense, really.
PL.com: Do you feel the same way about that statistic about Liverpool having accrued more points when Luis Suarez has not been in the side, then?
SM: Yes, because I could have said the same about Robin van Persie with Man United at the start of the season or Real Madrid if Ronaldo's not in the team. Most of it is nonsense.
PL.com: Do you think Liverpool can sustain a title challenge this season?
SM: That's the big question, isn't it? We're into October with Liverpool second. Every team has shown their fallibility, they've all dropped points here and there. If they are in this position, which they should, come Christmas, why not? Why not sustain a challenge? They finished seventh last season, 28 points behind Man United, but they are ahead of United at the moment, so they are well on the path to improving on last season.
"If they are in this position, which they should be, come Christmas, I don't see why they can't sustain a title challenge?"
If they stay where they are people are not going talk about them finishing fifth or sixth. They're going to be talking about them challenging for the Champions League spots, and if they are second, or even top, at Christmas, people will talk about them challenging for the title, and they are the type of conversations you want if you are a Liverpool supporter.
PL.com: They don't have the distraction of Europe either, do they?
SM: They don't, nor the Capital One Cup, to a lesser extent. They can focus on the League until the first week of January when the FA Cup comes around. But also Liverpool's squad is as strong as it's been in a while with their acquisitions. They are playing well, so I don't think, from Liverpool's perspective, there are any complaints or excuses.
BT Sport will provide live coverage of Newcastle United v Liverpool, on air on BT Sport 1 from 11.30am, kick off 12.45pm, Saturday, as one of their 38 exclusively live Barclays Premier League matches this season. BT Sport is free with BT broadband, to find out more visit www.btsport.com