Rafa Benitez loves Liverpool Football Club. Liverpool Football Club loves him. But he will be anything but accommodating when his Newcastle United side entertain his former employers on Sunday afternoon?
Liverpool have been a treat to watch for the neutrals so far this season, but their fans will have been less enamoured with their performances. For every excellent performance, such as their riveting 4-0 victory over Arsenal, comes a 5-0 shellacking against Man City, or a frenetic 3-3 draw with Watford.
A slow start to their Champions League campaign has added to the unrest at Anfield. A ‘Fab Four’ attack of Philippe Coutinho, Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and the returning Sadio Mane is among the best in the league, but Jurgen Klopp’s leaky defence has yet to be plugged, two years into his reign.
Simon Mignolet has never fully convinced in his four years on Merseyside, but his deputy, Loris Karius inspires even less confidence. Dejan Lovren’s errors continue to prove costly at centre back, whilst Trent Alexander-Arnold is still very much a right-back of potential, rather than the finished article.
Newcastle are hardly prolific scorers, but a quietly impressive start to the season will give them confidence going into the match. Three wins in a row against West Ham, Swansea and Stoke propelled them to the heady heights of fourth in the table to the delight of their long-suffering fans.
These are the kind of games that the Toon Army need to win if they want to avoid any relegation fears. A disappointing 1-0 defeat to Brighton last Sunday punctured the party atmosphere somewhat, and Liverpool will hope to capitalise. United have only conceded 5 goals all season, but just 6 of their shots have hit the net. One suspects that those numbers will look considerably different by Sunday evening.
The last time Klopp’s Liverpool rocked up at St James’s Park, they were defeated by a Gini Wijnaldum brace. Good job he’s playing for the Reds these days then.