Sean Longstaff will miss the encounter having twisted his ankle in training this week. The extent of the injury is the biggest concern – we will not know that for a few days, though.
As a result head coach Steve Bruce will need to come up with a formula to at least attempt to contain the opposition this weekend, without the legs, energy and dynamism Longstaff brings to the starting XI.
But what does he do? Here our NUFC writers Miles Starforth and Liam Kennedy take a look at the options available to Bruce.
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How big a miss will Longstaff be to the United side?
MS: “Longstaff will be a miss, unquestionably. And that says a lot about his progress and development given that he hadn’t kicked a ball in the Premier League this time last year. He’s had a phenomenal rise at the clubs, and he fully deserves a new contract. That said, Longstaff wasn’t quite back to his best following the knee injury he suffered against March.”
LK: “Massive. His runs statistics are up there with the very best in the division this season. He might not have looked quite as good as he did last season but he’s been a dynamo for Newcastle in the middle alongside Isaac Hayden and Miguel Almiron further forward. He’s not irreplaceable but there is no one in reserve who can step in seamlessly – whether Jonjo Shelvey or Ki Sung-yeung come in, they’re both very different options.”
Should Jonjo Shelvey be brought straight back into the side?
MS: “I’d say so, though there’s also a case for handing Ki Sung-yueng a start. It’s all about balance. We know how good Shelvey is with the ball. What he must do, especially away from home, is show what he can do without it. Liverpool will have a lot of possession, and United will need to be dogged and determined, and the defence will need a lot of protection.”
LK: “Not for me. Shelvey has seen the formation and system built around him at the start of the season and he looked out of sorts. When he plays United lose something for me. What they gain in Hollywood passes they lose in fight, legs and endeavour. It’s nothing personal, but I just struggle to pick him in my team. Three Newcastle managers have struggled to consistently get the best out of Shelvey.”
Can you make a case for Ki to get a chance?
MS: “Ki hasn’t played much football so far this season, so it would be a big ask for him to come into the starting XI at Anfield. He doesn’t have Shelvey’s vision and range of passing, but he’s neat and tidy and doesn’t give the ball away too often. When Newcastle get the ball off Liverpool, they will need to hold on to it, and Ki is adept and keeping things moving.”
LK: “Ki was absolutely awful against Norwich City in the last Premier League game he started so using that as a guide, no. I’d pick him ahead of Shelvey purely based on his form under Rafa Benitez last season. While he has a tendency to drift in and out of games, he is a less risky option than Shelvey, for me.”
Or is a system change the best way forward for United at Anfield in Longstaff's absence?
MS: “I would imagine that the 5-4-1 system used away to Tottenham Hotspur will be at the forefront of Bruce’s thinking ahead of the club’s visit to Anfield. The players know it from Benitez’s time in charge, and it allows Miguel Almiron to break from midfield and support Joelinton when they have possession. United will need to be solid and compact.”
LK: “I agree 100% with Miles on this one. If United needed to be tight against Spurs, they’ll have double that resolve and then some at Anfield in what could turn out to be a long afternoon if Bruce & Co are not careful.”
Do you think Matty Longstaff may be drafted into the matchday squad to cover for his brother?
MS: “I wouldn’t be surprised to see him travel. Bruce will take 20 players to Merseyside, two more than he needs. With so many players unavailable through injury, Bruce might even find a place on the bench for him. Being part of a Premier League matchday squad for a visit to Anfield, where Sean made his debut last season, would be brilliant for him.”
LK: “He will be on the bus, and I think he will be handed a place on the bench. It would be a big ask to see him involved, but he looks ready to dip his toe in the water at Premier League level.”