Newcastle suffered their biggest defeat of the campaign in a 4-0 loss to Liverpool on Boxing Day, with Rafa Benitez resting several key players.
With a heavy set of fixtures over the Christmas period, Benitez elected to rest Ayoze Perez, Fabian Schar and Salomon Rondon for the trip to Anfield.
The three players have previously been stalwarts in the manager’s line-up, but are presumably being saved for the upcoming Watford game.
Benitez instead set up his team at Anfield in a way that looked designed not to lose or to at the very least concede as little as possible.
It was an incredibly negative set-up, and their 4-0 drubbing meant that Benitez’s plan ultimately failed.
But it is against Watford on Saturday where the manager’s plan will truly be analysed.
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Resting his star trio against Liverpool may yet prove a masterstroke, but only if they help Newcastle win at Vicarage Road.
Pressure for star trio
The Liverpool game showed once again how much Newcastle miss Schar when he doesn’t play.
In their past nine matches, Newcastle have lost just three games, Schar playing in just one of them.
Meanwhile, Federico Fernandez and Jamaal Lascelles have just 13 and 18. Yet they’ve made almost twice as many appearances (14 and 15).
The Swiss centre-back is now clearly the team’s best defender after achieving incredible stats in just a small amount of games.
Even if Benitez reverts to a back four on Saturday, Schar simply must play.
Newcastle have arguably been very steady in defence overall this season, but Schar must once again steady the ship.
He changed the game against Watford in November, and the pressure is on for him to match that performance on Saturday.
Having been in such good form, Rondon will be upset to have been dropped against Liverpool.
The Venezuelan had hit four goals in his last seven games and had solidified a strong striking partnership with Perez.
Against Liverpool, his replacement Joselu showed just why Rondon was brought to the club.
The Spanish target man missed two huge chances against The Reds, including one to open the scoring.
In recent weeks, Rondon has been taking those chances. When there is such fine margins between teams, clinical strikers are a must.
However Rondon is not the finished article himself, and can go missing every so often.
But his presence was still sorely missed at Anfield and he must play if Newcastle want a result against Watford.
So often a divisive figure, Perez’s detractors have been quiet of late thanks to a string of half decent performances.
Goals are still hard to come by for the Spaniard, but Benitez seems to prefer him to Muto in the second striker role.
Muto looked sharp in a rare start against Liverpool, but may not have done enough to warrant another.
Perez meanwhile has the advantage of scoring against Watford last time out.
His goal against Watford in November brought the club it’s first win of the season, ending a nightmare run.
With Newcastle dropping back down towards the bottom three, he’ll be hoping to have a similar effect on Saturday.