John Aldridge: Liverpool will welcome an old friend to Anfield but Benitez will try bore us to tears
RAFAEL Benitez will get a warm welcome at Anfield this afternoon - and will then proceed trying to bore us all to tears in his effort to ensure his Newcastle team are not on the end of a hammering.
The Liverpool public will always show respect to former players and managers who have been part of successful times at a club and there will never be a greater moment that the 2005 Champions League final win against AC Milan.
Benitez was Reds manager on a night when he rode his luck after initially picking the wrong team and finding himself 3-0 down at half-time in Istanbul. Yet the history books will forever confirm that the European champions that year were Liverpool.
All winning managers need a stroke or two of good fortune en-route to victory and Benitez certainly had a few large slices during the Champions League run that season, but he is one of the managers who brought the biggest prize in club football to Anfield and, for that, the fans will always be grateful.
Benitez will argue he has no choice other than to park the bus and try to keep the score down at Anfield against the Premier League leaders and believe it or not, I reckon he would be happy to get out of this game with a 2-0 defeat.
He's working with very limited resources at Newcastle and has done a good job to keep them in the Premier League. But I find the negativity he employs in the games against the top six to be a little over the top.
Liverpool beat Newcastle at Anfield last March despite Benitez deploying a flat back ten in a bid to stop the home side and I remember him telling the media after the 2-0 defeat that he tried to change things and show more ambition when his side fell behind.
Well, I was at that game and all he did when Newcastle were trailing is make changes designed to ensure his team were not overwhelmed – as he sees these kind of games as crucial in protecting his side's goal difference. A heavy defeat at Anfield could mean Newcastle end up going down by a goal or two on the final day of the season, so Benitez has to do what he feels he needs to in a bid to survive in the Premier League.
It can be frustrating to watch a match featuring just one team trying to win, but I would back Jurgen Klopp's team to get the job done in what may be a scrappy affair.
They overcame a tough challenge to secure the Christmas No 1 spot in the Premier League with a 2-0 win at Wolves on Friday night and I would expect changes to the line-up today ahead of the big challenges now on the horizon.
A home game against Arsenal on Saturday will be followed by the crunch game against Manchester City on Thursday, January 3rd and Klopp will have an idea of the team he will want to expect for those two games.
That's why I'm expecting Xherdan Shaqiri to start in midfield today and we might also see Nathaniel Clyne and Daniel Sturridge getting starts.
Klopp will want to keep his key men fresh for the Arsenal and City games and if his side are still top of the table after these next three matches, they will head into 2019 with optimism rising that they could pull off a miracle and halt Pep Guardiola's champions in the title race.
As Klopp said after the Wolves game, Liverpool will probably need to crack the 100-point mark this season if they are to have any chance of ending the club's 29-year wait for a league title and that will be no easy task.
To have 45 points in the bag by Christmas is a truly fantastic effort, but keeping this run of form going and not making any mistakes will be a tough task and this afternoon's game against Newcastle has to be their only focus today.
Forget the Arsenal and Manchester City games for now and make sure that Liverpool old boy Benitez does not succeed in his attempt to ruin a game of football at Anfield today.