After a disappointing 0-0 at home to Fulham on Saturday, Newcastle now face the daunting task of taking on league leaders Liverpool.
The Reds are in phenomenal form and are undefeated in 18 Premier League matches this season. Rafa Benitez will also be well aware that Jurgen Klopp’s men have been winning in style of late, with 12 goals in their last four matches.
It will be a tough return to Anfield for the former Liverpool manager and he’s likely to once again line up with a defensive starting XI.
Return of Fernandez in a back three
With Liverpool firing on all cylinders, Benitez will be hoping his recent success with a 3-5-1-1 formation can slow them down.
Newcastle have performed remarkably well with three centre-backs in their last two outings, keeping two clean sheets.
Despite Federico Fernandez being named fit to play last weekend, Benitez surprisingly started Paul Dummett ahead of him against Fulham.
A centre-back role for the Englishman allowed Matt Ritchie to play in left wing-back and provide support up front, but they’re likely to have far less opportunities at Anfield.
Benitez is more likely to revert Dummett back to left-back and bring in Fernandez, meaning his best three centre-backs start the game.
A back three featuring Fabian Schar, Jamaal Lascelles and Fernandez is Newcastle’s best bet of earning themselves a point.
Too early for Shelvey return?
With midfield regular Ki Sung-yueng now away on international duty, the stage is set for a Jonjo Shelvey return.
But with three games this week, it would be a better idea to rest the playmaker, especially with his fitness in doubt.
Benitez’s midfield will likely be busy defending for much of the game, meaning Shelvey wouldn’t offer much to the side.
The manager instead may look to play Isaac Hayden with Mo Diame as a midfield partnership.
It won’t make for exciting football, but it will certainly break down Liverpool’s midfield fluidity.
Yedlin or Manquillo?
Manquillo has surprised fans in recent weeks with his measured performances after DeAndre Yedlin’s red card suspension.
Although Yedlin offers more going forward, Manquillo is in good form and has put in some good defensive displays.
However Yedlin’s pace may give him the edge at Anfield. The sheer speed of Sadio Mane and Mo Salah means the manager needs wing-backs who can match them.
Kenedy to remain benched, Ritchie over Atsu
With Ritchie likely to be moved back into midfield, it means there’s no place in the side for Christian Atsu.
The Ghanaian had been in terrific form of late, but looked ineffective against Fulham.
Ritchie’s defensive contribution has been phenomenal this season and that must be the priority at Anfield.
Kenedy meanwhile is having a frustrating season and is likely to once again start a match on the bench.
In a game where effort must outclass quality, Ritchie will offer the team far more than the Brazilian.
No change up top
Benitez seems to have found his front two in recent weeks in Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon.
However the pair are unlikely to get much service this Boxing Day.
Instead Perez will be expected to contribute defensively, while Rondon hassles the Liverpool back-line.
They’re best chance of scoring is most likely going to come from a set-piece, as Newcastle continue to rely on headed goals this season.