Just over a week on from their most painful, and seemingly most costly, defeat of the season, things could suddenly look a whole lot brighter for Liverpool come the end of Monday night.
A 4-1 reversal at the hands of rivals Arsenal last weekend left Liverpool with a seven point gap to overhaul in the battle for a precious Champions League place with only seven matches remaining. But after showing character to get through a testing replay with Blackburn Rovers to book their place in the FA Cup semifinals, Liverpool now have renewed top-four hope, as well.
Manchester City’s defeat to local foes Manchester United on Sunday means that Liverpool can now close the gap to the fourth-placed champions to just four points with a victory at home to Newcastle United on Monday.
“The performance and the result the other night [against Blackburn] puts us back on track again and hopefully from that result we can build the momentum through now until the end of the season,” Brendan Rodgers said ahead of the Manchester derby. “It was an excellent performance, good result in a tough tie. We’ll just take each game at a time now and really focus on the Newcastle game.”
Rodgers’ options for the visit of Newcastle will again be hampered by several absentees. Captain Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel remain suspended, while Mamadou Sakho is out through injury. There will, though, be a return for Emre Can after he served his one-match ban. Also coming back into the squad will be Jordon Ibe. The 19-year-old made a big impression when breaking into the team earlier this year, but has been hampered with a knee injury since February.
Rodgers was full of praise for the performances of the winger in training, although he was more circumspect in his assessment of Daniel Sturridge’s chances of imminently returning to his best. Sturridge spent much of the first half of the season on the treatment table, and, having scored immediately upon his return in January, has found the net just three times in his last 14 appearances.
“I knew that would be the case when he was first coming back,” Rodgers said, reports the Liverpool Echo. “Daniel was a long time out. When you’re out for that length of time it maybe takes you the same amount of time to get back to that level again.
“The key for him was to get back and be fit but he needs a good pre-season under his belt, a total run at pre-season and hopefully he’ll be fine for next season. Until that point we have to maximize what we can get out of him.”
Even without a fully firing Sturridge, Liverpool have ample reason to fancy their chances of getting three points on Monday. Newcastle have endured a woeful run since the departure of manager Alan Pardew and the decision from unpopular owner Mike Ashley to promote assistant John Carver to the top job. Their slump reached its latest nadir last weekend when losing to local rivals Sunderland. While Newcastle still have a nine-point buffer to the relegation zone, Carver has insisted that the final seven games of the season could define the future of the club and that of many of the current squad.
“[Sunderland] was probably one of the darkest days in my career and I'm still hurting,” he said, according to Newcastle United’s official website. “It was a bitter pill to take. As a Club, we accept the responsibility and we accept that it just wasn't good enough. We've had a difficult run but you are only as good as your last game and that for us was a huge disappointment.
“We now have a seven-game season on our hands. The next couple of games are tough but things after that look a bit more favorable on paper. The results after the remaining games will define the whole football club including some of the players. There's a lot in that dressing room out of contract in the summer, so these seven games will define a lot of what happens for everybody at Newcastle.”
Newcastle will again be missing suspended duo Papiss Cisse and captain Fabricio Coloccini as well as the injured pair Cheick Tiote and Steven Taylor. However, Daryl Janmaat is expected to recover from a calf strain suffered against Sunderland.
Prediction: Liverpool were certainly not outstanding against Blackburn, but there were some positive signs after two big defeats. There will be much interest in whether, with Can back available, Rodgers will revert to a back three formation that had faltered in recent weeks, or stick with the 4-3-3 selected in beating Blackburn. Either way, Liverpool should have too much for their next opponents. Newcastle were insipid in going down to Sunderland and have unsurprisingly been a rudderless ship since the club showed a striking lack of ambition by leaving Carver in charge. Without the likes of Coloccini and Taylor -- characters who could at least inspire a reaction from the team -- it is difficult to see Newcastle displaying either the nous or resolve to come away with anything from Anfield.
Predicted score: Liverpool over Newcastle, 2-0
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. ET
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra