Striker Andy Carroll in the spotlight when Liverpool plays Newcastle
LONDON (Reuters) -- Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has backed Andy Carroll to put his lean spell behind him as the Anfield club prepare for Friday's Premier League match against the mis-firing striker's former side Newcastle United.
The clash between sixth-placed Liverpool and Newcastle, a place below them, kicks off a six-day, 19-match Premier League holiday extravaganza.
League leaders Manchester City are in action on Sunday when they visit Sunderland, enjoying a revival under new manager Martin O'Neill, and then host Liverpool next Tuesday.
Second-placed Manchester United face bottom club Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford on Saturday and then travel to Newcastle on Jan. 4, while third-placed Tottenham Hotspur visit Swansea City on Saturday before playing West Brom at home on Jan. 3.
Carroll has scored five goals in 28 appearances for Liverpool since his 35 million pounds ($54.84 million) move to Anfield last January and netted just twice this season but Dalglish told a news conference on Wednesday the 22-year-old has worked hard and caused the club no problems.
"I think you yourselves have a bigger problem with Andy Carroll than anyone else," Dalglish told reporters.
"Every week there are questions, this time it is understandable I suppose because he's playing against Newcastle United if he was to start, but I don't understand it.
"It is unfortunate he attracts some attention to himself from yourselves, but for us since he has come here, he has gone about his work very well on and off the pitch and he is adjusting to life at a new club with a new philosophy and a new way of playing.
"There is nobody at our place who couldn't be doing better, so he is in the same bracket as everyone else," he said.
While Carroll is expected to start for Liverpool against Newcastle, Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez will be absent after being banned for one match and fined 20,000 pounds (~$31,000) by the FA for making an offensive gesture to Fulham fans during the defeat at Craven Cottage earlier this month.
That ban is separate from the eight-match suspension the FA imposed on the Uruguayan last week after he was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra.
However, Dalglish could recall club captain Steven Gerrard to the starting lineup after the midfielder returned to action from a 10-match injury layoff as a second-half substitute against Blackburn.
Manchester United have the chance to go clear at the top of the table for the first time since the beginning of October when they face Blackburn on Saturday with City not playing at Sunderland until Sunday.
United beat Wigan Athletic 5-0 on Monday to pull level on 45 points with City who could only draw 0-0 at West Bromwich Albion.
While City remain the bookies favourites for the title, goalkeeper Joe Hart said they were beginning to feel the pressure.
"Of course we feel the pressure," he told reporters. "You have to earn the title and it's hard work.
"We're the team to beat and we're enjoying that but it's not always going to be as easy as we've sometimes made it look in the past."