“Hi Rob,” says David Wall. “At what point can you say that there is a genuine contest for the title? Almost half of the season has been played and there are six points between the top nine teams (yes, Liverpool can go five points clear this evening but they’ll have then played a game more than most other sides).
“I saw that Solskjaer was trying to play down the idea yesterday, suggesting you couldn’t really say there was a proper contest until about 30 games had been played). But last year the title was almost decided by this point. And considering that no side has shown any likelihood of achieving the kind of consistency Liverpool had last year then you’d expect it to stay pretty close from here, wouldn’t you? Or is it really too soon to tell, especially with there being so much uncertainty about fixture scheduling, the effects of infection on players, potential breaks in any football at all, and so on?”
This reminds me a few of the seasons in the 1990s (and 2001-02, the great forgotten title race), when the table was often very tight at Christmas before one or two teams pulled away with crazy winning/unbeaten runs. I’d expect the same to happen here with Liverpool and Manchester City (if Sergio Aguero stays fit).
United are the most intriguing element of the title race. If they win at Anfield in January it will make things deliciously interesting, but my feeling is it’s still too soon for them to challenge. I said Liverpool by 10+ points at the start and I’m sticking with that. If I was a Liverpool fan I’d be slightly worried about how little Jurgen Klopp rotates, but I still think they’ll be too good.
Some more pre-match reading
Spurs were supposed to be playing Fulham right now, but the match was postponed at the last minute because of a Covid outbreak at Fulham. That didn’t impress Jose Mourinho much.
Steve Bruce has made one change to the Newcastle side that lost 2-0 at Manchester City on Boxing Day: Callum Wilson replaces Miguel Almiron.
There’s some positive injury news for Liverpool, with James Milner returning to the starting line-up and Thiago Alcantara among the substitutes. Nat Phillips starts at centre-half in place of the injured Joel Matip.
Newcastle (3-4-2-1) Darlow; Clark, Fernandez, Schar; Yedlin, M Longstaff, Hayden, Ritchie; Murphy, Joelinton; Wilson.
Substitutes: Dubravka, Lewis, Krafth, Shelvey, Hendrick, Almiron, S Longstaff, Carroll, Gayle.
Liverpool (4-3-3) Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Fabinho, Robertson; Milner, Henderson, Jones; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Substitutes: Kelleher, R Williams, N Williams, Wijnaldum, Thiago, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Shaqiri, Minamino, Origi.
Referee Paul Tierney.
Hello and welcome to live coverage of Newcastle v Liverpool from St James’ Park. It’s the last Premier League game of 2020, and Liverpool’s final match of a momentous year in which they won their first league title since 1990. Their title defence hasn’t reached the same awesome heights, at least not consistently, but they are still top and will move five points clear of Manchester United if they win tonight. It’s not exactly a crisis.
Newcastle have had a decent season in terms of results, especially given the Covid outbreak that hit them so hard, but there has been the usual discontent over their style of play. They won’t be turning into Brazil 1970 tonight, understandably so given the opposition. If Newcastle draw 1-1 through a thrice-deflected 94th-minute goal from Jonjo Shelvey, having had 4 per cent of the possession, they’ll have had a good night. Any change in style will have to wait till next year.
Kick off 8pm.