“Rafa Benitez is one of the best managers in the world – he can organise a team to make life difficult.”
Those were the words of Jurgen Klopp ahead of Newcastle United’s visit to Anfield.
Benitez’s side have made life difficult for Klopp’s Liverpool – twice.
Can it be third time lucky for 15th-placed Newcastle, held to a 2-2 draw by Bournemouth last weekend, this evening?
United came from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Liverpool at Anfield in April 2016 – Jack Colback scored an equaliser – and the two clubs drew 1-1 at St James’s Park earlier this season.
Klopp’s team, however, have gone from strength to strengthen since then.
We have to stop them scoring. It’s about keeping the balance and to have a team that is solid in defence, but who can go on and create something in attack.Rafa Benitez
Liverpool are pushing second-placed Manchester United, and their front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane look unstoppable.
Can they be stopped?
“It’s not easy, but I have the idea that if we play with the same intensity, the same commitment and the same organisation that we did against Manchester United (when Newcastle won 1-0) that we can compete,” said manager Benitez.
“Play like we did against Bournemouth, then just to make sure you take your chances if you want to win.
“At the same time, we have to stop them scoring. It’s about keeping the balance and to have a team that is solid in defence, but who can go on and create something in attack.”
Salah, Firmino and Mane have scored 43 Premier League goals between them so far this season.
Newcastle’s top scorer is Dwight Gayle with five goals.
Benitez believes his former club’s attack is as good as any in the division.
“I think so, but, at the same time, I don’t want to talk too much about Liverpool,” said Benitez. “I am the Newcastle manager, and I’ve got to be sure we go there and we compete.
“I have the connection, the relationship with the (Liverpool) fans, and they have very good players. These three are very good, for sure, but I want to focus on the game.”
Getting to the game will be a challenge in itself for United fans given the adverse weather conditions which yesterday saw the M62 closed.
Benitez is mindful of the hazards they will face on their journey across the Pennines.
“I think it’s difficult for the Premier League to find solutions,” said Benitez. “I wish our fans a safe journey because of the conditions.
“Obviously, we can talk about the winter break and all these things, but you can have a winter break in January and then you have snow in February. I think it’s very difficult.
“It’s just to be alert and be ready to find solutions as soon as something is wrong, like the times and days of the games.
“It’s quite difficult. It’s just to be sure that we guarantee, as much as we can, the safety of the fans when they travel.”