It’s not too difficult to pick out the Premier League fixtures which, no matter what, will be broadcast live on television – the Manchester derby, the North London derby, Arsenal v Chelsea, Liverpool v Manchester United, the usual ones. But one sticks out as different from the rest – Liverpool v Newcastle United. It’s always on TV.
This Saturday will be no different. As is the case whenever these two sides meet, the weekend clash between Liverpool and Newcastle has been picked for a live TV slot. A primetime TV slot on Saturday evening, actually. The cliché goes that this is a game that always produces drama and goals, a pattern which can be traced all the way back to the famous game played between the two sides in 1996.
Seven goals were shared as Liverpool claimed a 4-3 win in what is still to this day hailed as the best Premier League match of all time. Of course, the true drama of the game has been exaggerated ever so slightly over time, but it still serves as an image of what was an exhilarating time in the English game. A time which, in many ways, was epitomised by Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle side.
They embodied English football’s swagger at that point of the 1990s, when Paul Gaacoigne was one of the best players in the world and David Ginola was the epitome of the Premier League’s newfound confidence in itself. Euro 96 was just a fews months away and Newcastle United were a large part of what made this time in English football so utterly compelling.
After the match, played in April 1996, Liverpool boss Roy Evans admitted that there had been “kamikaze defending” from both teams. “Managers would be dead within six months if every game was like that,” he added. Similar things have been said about the current Liverpool team, if not so much this Newcastle side.
Jurgen Klopp’s Reds are as close to Keegan’s Newcastle outfit as there has been in the time since. They have the same sort of spirit about them, putting attack ahead of defence and all else. Their frontline, one of the best in the league, is offset against their defence, one of the shakiest in the league. They have a winger who looks like he can score in every match and a goalkeeper (two goalkeepers, actually) who look like they could throw one in their own net every match.
There’s an undeniable charm to this Liverpool team. Their matches quite often descend into chaos, even when they look set for a comfortable win. It was the same with Keegan’s Newcastle United. When they play, there are goals. That’s why some harbour hopes that Saturday’s game between the two clubs might live up to its billing.
The problem for Liverpool was that this chaos and inability to defend cost Newcastle United the Premier League title. They probably would have gone on to pip Manchester United to the league in the 1995/96 season had they not collapsed at Anfield that fateful evening. Similarly, Liverpool would be much closer to Manchester City had they keep things a bitter tighter at the back at times.
Klopp probably doesn’t want his Liverpool team to be like Keegan’s Newcastle. The latter have become something of a punchline over the years, with Keegan’s meltdown on camera still remembered to this day. Klopp wants to win titles and silverware at Liverpool and the Newcastle team of 1995/96 serve as a warning as to the fate the Reds might suffer if they don’t change things.
As things stand, Liverpool are merely fighting for a place in the top four. Champions League qualification is crucial to the progress Klopp is making at Anfield and this weekend’s game against Newcastle will prove another test in those efforts. No natural rivalry exists between the two clubs, but for some reason the history of both Liverpool and Newcastle United seem to be entwined. Even now, Rafa Benitez keeps them linked in some way, with the Spaniard set to return to his former club. But the real link between these two teams is in the spiritual one between Klopp and Keegan.