- Newcastle v Liverpool, Premier League preview
Toon hunger for win helped by Suarez absence
The football world may still be talking about Luis Suarez's ban, but Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew for one might be more than happy not to look this particular gift-horse in the mouth.
Regardless of the status of his appeal against the 10-match ban imposed by the Football Association for that infamous bite on Branislav Ivanovic, Suarez will be unavailable for the game against Newcastle at St James' Park - a real boost for the Magpies.
Back in November, it was an individual goal of sublime skill from Suarez that prevented the 10-man Toon picking up the win at Anfield and, nearly six months later, it is the home side that now need three points more than ever.
Just six points above the relegation zone (having played a game more than Wigan), Newcastle can go a long way to securing their top-flight status with a home win against the Reds. Without Suarez to contend with, that becomes a lot easier.
Defeat, however, could prompt a dangerous slide.
"If we got a great result on Saturday, I wouldn't put it past us to win two more games," Pardew noted in his pre-match press conference. "But if we lose, then we lose that little bit of momentum we gained at West Brom and suddenly you're fighting again to try and get those three points. It's a different pressure."
Newcastle are also helped by the fact Liverpool have little to play for - with last weekend's draw with Chelsea, while confidence-boosting, leaving Brendan Rodgers' side firmly ensconced in seventh; five points behind local rivals Everton, but six ahead of West Brom.
With European football no longer a possibility, arguably no club has as little to play for over the remainder of the campaign as Liverpool.
The Reds have never been a club to rest on laurels, however, and Rodgers will be eager to see no let-up from his side over the final four games. With Suarez likely to miss the opening six games of the new season, the run-in to the end of the campaign could provide a chance for the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Stewart Downing to show they can create and finish opportunities without their talismanic force.
"It's the team's responsibility," Rodgers said, when asked about coping without Suarez. "There's a plan going forward for the team - we have to keep progressing.
"That's about the team showing their solidarity on the field and making sure that one player doesn't feel that burden.
"It's really about the team's responsibility now to push on."
Games between Newcastle and Liverpool have traditionally produced both drama and goals - the absence of Suarez lessens the prospect of both but, with the home side in such a precarious position, the likelihood is that Saturday will nevertheless provide another memorable encounter.
It has been an erratic run to the finish so far for Newcastle, who looked on the up when they defeated Stoke in April. But a controversial loss to Wigan was followed by a hammering at the hands of Manchester City - before a sneaky win over Fulham again had the side on the verge of safety for another campaign.
Then came the painful derby defeat to Sunderland, which dragged them back into danger just as the Black Cats catapulted past him. A draw last weekend against West Brom has Pardew talking about "momentum", but the manager is aware that a win is sorely needed; and sooner rather than later.
Liverpool, meanwhile, have picked up nine points from a possible 18 in recent weeks, drawing their last three games (with West Ham, Reading and Chelsea) in succession.
- Yohan Cabaye v Steven Gerrard
Two important midfield forces battling for dominance
- Hatem Ben Arfa v Jose Enrique
The rumoured Reds target against the Toon old boy
- Rob Elliott v Jose Reina
Neither goalkeeper can afford an error
Newcastle should be boosted by the return to availability of midfielder Cheick Tiote - while Papiss Cisse (rib injury) and Sylvain Marveaux (groin) are expected to shrug off knocks for this important match. Hatem Ben Arfa is now ready to start, while Fabricio Coloccini is also back in full training - although it remains to be seen if Pardew will throw the defender into the fray after missing the last seven weeks.
Other players are not so fortunate - Davide Santon (hamstring) and Ryan Taylor are all unavailable. In goal, Rob Elliot will continue as Tim Krul is not expected to return until next season.
Liverpool will be without the suspended Suarez, who will miss the Reds' forthcoming three league games regardless of the status of his appeal. Otherwise manager Rodgers has the same options available to him as he did against Chelsea - with Raheem Sterling available and Steven Gerrard shrugging off a slight shoulder problem. Fabio Borini and Joe Allen (also shoulder injuries) are both unlikely to be involved, however.
Martin Kelly remains the only long-term absentee - the defender is close to a return to full training, but Rodgers is happy to let him fully recuperate before bringing him back into the fold for the start of the new season.
One to watch
Regardless of a slight rib injury, Newcastle will play Papiss Cisse until the end of the season - they simply cannot afford not to.
After an up-and-down campaign, the Senegal international has produced a number of crucial goals for his team over recent weeks, and will again be the main threat for the home side on Saturday evening. While Moussa Sissoko and Yohan Cabaye will fancy their chances of contributing from midfield, it is Cisse who will likely need to get on the scoresheet if Newcastle are to get the three points they crave.
The battle of the fringe England players? Shorn of Suarez, Daniel Sturridge immediately becomes the focal point for Liverpool. The ex-Chelsea striker can prove a bit of a black hole at times with his tendency to hold onto the ball when there are better options around him, but he is also capable of flashes of individual skill that unlock a defence.
That's not the sort of forward that Steven Taylor typically excels against, but what the rugged centre-back lacks in finesse he makes up for in heart and workrate. With Newcastle in his blood, he will do everything he can to shackle Sturridge on Saturday.
Prediction and bet
These meetings are invariably exciting, but only one of these teams desperately needs the win this time around. Newcastle have won the last two meetings with Liverpool at St James', and may just fancy their chances to make it a third in succession with Suarez watching from the sidelines.
The only question is where the goals are going to come from - and, with both defences looking somewhat porous, we can see a few unlikely candidates getting in on the action. Jonas Gutierrez is 20/1 with bet365 to open the scoring, while, if you prefer, Sylvain Marveaux can be backed at 14/1. On the other hand, Jordan Henderson is 5/1 to score anytime for the Reds.
Final score: 3-2