Free-scoring Liverpool face Benitez exam


Liverpool’s free-scoring form faces a challenge as their former manager Rafa Benitez returns to Anfield with Newcastle in the Premier League on Saturday.

Optimism is high for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who climbed briefly into second place after beating West Ham 4-1 last Saturday, before Manchester United moved back above them with victory over Chelsea a day later.

The latest win at Anfield offered another example of the thrilling football that Liverpool have played under Klopp this season, scoring 103 goals in 40 games in all competitions.

Of those goals, 66 have been shared between the formidable front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.

Liverpool should know that former boss Benitez knows how to set up a team to frustrate opponents. Liverpool must be wary of falling into the trap that caught them when they suffered their most recent defeat, 1-0 at Swansea on January 22.

That night, Swansea manager Carlos Carvalhal suggested that Liverpool were like a Formula One car stuck in a rush-hour traffic jam, referring to the way his players had worked to stop Salah, Firmino and Sane.

Klopp’s side have scored 18 goals in six games since then, but both the manager and his players are aware that Newcastle could prove awkward.

“It is a very, very important game for everyone and I think everyone is looking forward to the match,” said Liverpool midfielder Emre Can said.

“I think we have a good basis now for the end of the season. We are third in the Premier League, we are still in the Champions League and I think we are in a very good position.

“Each game is like a final. We have to look from each game to each game and now on Saturday it will really be a very tough game against Newcastle.”

Klopp is hopeful that midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and striker Danny Ings will recover from illness to be considered for selection; the only other fitness problem in the squad concerns full-back Nathaniel Clyne, who is recovering from a back injury.

Newcastle have injury worries over Jonjo Shelvey. The former Liverpool midfielder is a doubt after suffering minor knee ligament damage in a collision with team-mate Martin Dubravka in the 2-2 draw at Bournemouth, a result that leaves Benitez’s side two points above the relegation zone.

Islam Slimani, the Algeria forward who has yet to make his debut following a loan move from Leicester at the end of January, will miss at least the next two games after aggravating a thigh problem in training.

Benitez is still revered by Liverpool fans after leading the club to Champions League and FA Cup success during a six-year reign.

The Spaniard retains a family base in the area, but hopes to remain out of the limelight as the Tyneside club aim to end to halt their own 24-year winless streak in the league at Anfield and their hosts’ unbeaten Premier League home record this season.

Newcastle earned a 2-2 draw on Benitez’s most recent Anfield visit almost two years ago, and he said: “It’s not about me, or the managers, it’s what happens out on the pitch.

“I loved it at Liverpool and will always have fond memories of my time there, but I am manager of Newcastle United now and we’ll go there to try to claim three points.”

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