Newcastle United-Liverpool Preview

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24: Rafael Benitez Manager / head coach of Newcastle United during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Newcastle United at Vitality Stadium on February 24, 2018 in Bournemouth, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Rafa Benitez was the last man to navigate an unbeaten season at Anfield in the Premier League nearly a decade ago. He returns Saturday with Newcastle United trying to prevent Jurgen Klopp from doing the same while keeping the Magpies above the drop.

Liverpool (16-9-3) have taken 30 points from their 14 league home matches this term, winning eight and drawing six around an FA Cup loss to West Bromwich Albion. They have racked up 31 goals while conceding just 10, and the only times they have been held off the scoresheet at Anfield were in draws to Manchester United and the Baggies.

When Benitez accomplished the feat in guiding the Reds to a runners-up finish in 2008-09 behind Manchester United, Liverpool claimed 12 wins and seven draws. The only other time in top-flight history Liverpool went unbeaten at home in league play over a full season was in their 1987-88 title-winning campaign (15-5-0).

While there are still warm mutual feelings between Benitez and the Kop faithful, good tidings are taking a back seat to survival for Benitez and Newcastle as well as securing a Champions League spot for Klopp and Liverpool.

The Toons (7-8-13) are just two points above the drop in 15th place on 29 points, but unbeaten in their last four league matches (1-3-0). But it was two points thrown away last Saturday as Newcastle squandered a two-goal lead in the final 10 minutes as they were pegged back by Bournemouth in a 2-2 draw.

Dwight Gayle had a brace before halftime, but the Magpies could not see the lead through, leaving Benitez gravely concerned his young team - their core almost completely comprised of last season's squad that gained promotion by winning the Championship - doesn't have enough on-field nous to carry out the Spaniard's tactics.

"We have been working so hard during the whole season and we have been very close to winning games that we have drawn or lost," Benitez told The Times. "It's not fair but it's like this. These kinds of games, when you are winning 2-0, you have to be sure that you manage and do well.

"What we have to do (at Liverpool) is play 70 minutes like against Bournemouth. Hopefully we will take the positives and the team will do the same. We are talking about teams with players who can make a difference, so you cannot lose your concentration for one second because you pay for that."

Gayle and mercurial midfielder Jonjo Shelvey are match-time decisions as both are carrying injuries. Newcastle will again be without forward Islam Slimani, who aggravated an injury in training and has yet to feature after signing from Leicester City before the January window closed.

Liverpool are third in the table on 57 points, two back of Manchester United and two better than Tottenham Hotspur as they are part of a four-team fight for the final three Champions League places behind champions-elect Manchester City.

The Reds have won three on the spin in all competitions and are coming off a 4-1 dismantling of West Ham United last Saturday in which they wrested control of the game on goals six minutes apart early in the second half by Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. Emre Can and Sadio Mane bookended those goals on either side of halftime as Liverpool have now scored 103 goals, yet Klopp continues to demand more from his side.

"It's nothing decided this season, we are in a good position but a good position only gives you the basis for the next few games and now we have to use it as a group - players, coaches, manager and crowd," Klopp told Liverpool's official website as his team is also 90 minutes away from completing a two-legged victory over FC Porto on Tuesday to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals.

"We need to be ready for a difficult game (Saturday). ... They always have opportunities with counterattacks and set pieces to score by themselves. They will defend a little bit deeper, probably, and we need an atmosphere that is ready for that as well."

Salah, who has 31 goals in 37 matches across all competitions for Liverpool, is riding a six-match goal-scoring streak. The Egypt international has already set a Premier League record by scoring 20 goals with his left foot and has struck for 17 in 19 matches at Anfield.

The teams played out a 1-1 draw at St James' Park on Oct. 1, with Joselu's goal on 36 minutes canceling out one by Philippe Coutinho seven minutes prior. While Liverpool outshot Newcastle 17-8, they had just two shots on target compared to the Magpies' five.

Anfield has been a graveyard of dreams for Newcastle, who are winless in their last 21 league visits (0-4-17) since a 2-0 victory April 16, 1994, in their first Premier League era match.