Football: Resurgent Liverpool spell danger for straggling McClaren and Newcastle

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp celebrates on Dec 3, 2015.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp celebrates on Dec 3, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - The ascending star of Juergen Klopp collides with Steve McClaren's hurtling meteor on Sunday, as the German's re-energised Liverpool tackle the former England football manager's free-wheeling Newcastle United.

Four consecutive wins have elevated Liverpool to within sight of the Premier League top four and into the League Cup semi-finals, while successive heavy losses to Leicester and Crystal Palace have sent Newcastle careening into the relegation zone.

The Magpies' porousness and the Reds' attacking incisiveness could spell another bleak afternoon for McClaren, whose position is reportedly under threat after just two wins in 14 league games.

But after a number of matches in which his team have conceded the first goal, Klopp is wary of giving Newcastle hope, warning his players: "Confidence is something like a small flower.

"If you have it, but somebody kicks it in the game, you see nothing. But if you don't have it, you can get it easily back if the other team give you the opportunity to do this. That's what we have to be prepared for.

"I never have a problem with over-confidence. We expect it (to win), too. To be honest, we expect it all the time, but it doesn't work all the time and that's the problem."

For all Klopp's cautiousness, his team are flying, and McClaren will be acutely aware that all Liverpool's best recent displays have come away from home.

They have won 3-1 at Chelsea, 4-1 at Manchester City and 6-1 at Southampton, in the League Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday, only failing to win in Klopp's first game, at Tottenham, which finished 0-0.

Striker Daniel Sturridge marked his first start under Klopp with a smoothly taken brace at Southampton and he is in contention to start again at St James' Park, along with captain Jordan Henderson, who has recovered from a broken foot.

Henderson's return to fitness is timely, with Emre Can suspended after picking up five bookings, but Klopp says that he will ease the England international back into action carefully.

"It is a good example to explain how players have to be handled differently because Hendo is a worker and he needs to be absolutely fit, and that is the difference," said Klopp.

"For him it was better how we did it in the last two games (when Henderson started on the bench), but it was perfect to have him back as an option on the bench that we can bring him into the game."

Klopp is likely to be without Philippe Coutinho, who is taking longer than expected to recover from a hamstring problem, but Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke could come in after being rested against Southampton.

McClaren has major injury problems, with no fewer than nine senior squad members currently sidelined.

Newcastle came in for some withering criticism after last weekend's abject 5-1 defeat at Palace, but McClaren has defended his players against accusations that they do not have the heart for a relegation fight.

"You cross that white line and you play in front of 52,000 people, believe you me, you have got to try," he said.

"It looks like, from the outside, they are not trying, they are not running, they are not working. I thought that and we looked at the stats, and they are exactly the same.

"It looks like they are not trying, but they are and we see that. We are trying to build it every week and I see it in training, and we need to transfer that confidence that we have and that belief that we have in the week into a Saturday."

Liverpool have won on only two of their last six trips to Newcastle, but on both occasions they prevailed handsomely - 6-0 in April 2013, Sturridge and Henderson each scoring twice, and 5-1 in December 2008.

McClaren must pray that the stars are not aligning for a repeat performance.