Everton – Liverpool (Premier League)
Saturday at 12.45 Everton and Liverpool meet at Goodison Park and there never was a Merseyide Derby quiet like this. This season it goes beyond deciding who rules Merseyside. There’s a lot more at stake. Three points separate the two sides, the Reds are 2nd and the Toffees 6th. This means that both teams are still in the run for a spot in the Champions League. If victory falls on Liverpool they will be atop of the table, even if momentarily. If Everton wins they’ll level on points with the neighbour rivals and that is huge.
Roberto Martinez squad has had a good start this season, losing only twice in thirteen fixtures, to Fulham (2-1) in the Capital One Cup and to City (3-1) in the Premier League. They are now sixth with 20 points, have not conceded in the last three matches and are unbeaten at home so far. The Reds managed to gain three points from Chelsea and another one from the Spurs. The Spaniard is still settling to the manager seat but the team is showing his marks already and there’s no better way to the fans heart than to win them a derby. Everton seem happier keeping possession of the ball. Keeper Tim Howard is having an outstanding term and that is building the team’s confidence right from the back. Mamadou Sakho was flawless in France’s play-off game last Tuesday. I mean he was everywhere and always had the right move. Ross Barkley received praise from his manager. Martinez went as far to say that the 19-year-old had the technical skills that could match Brazilian and Dutch youngsters and that his humble, eager to learn, character would help him go further. Certainly the best way to state his credentials to a potential trip to Brazil is in the field, game after game, until spring comes.
Tony Hibbert is available after a calf-injury and Antolín Alcaraz is ready to make his début with the Tofees shirt. Arouna Koné and Darron Gibson remain long-term casualties.
Probable lineup: Tim Howard – Séamus Coleman, Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin, Leighton Baines – James McCarthy, Gareth Barry – Kevin Mirallas, León Osman, Steven Pienaar – Romelu Lukaku.
The Reds sit in a comfortable second place at the Premier League’s table, with 23 points in 11 games, just two behind leader Arsenal. They have the best striker’s duo of the league, together Sturridge and Suárez are responsible for sixteen hits, eight each, which makes them the top scorers, alongside Aguero. They’re are coming from a 4-1 victory over Fulham at Anfield Road and they are not letting that momentum go to waste.
There’s a thing or two, though, that can burst their bubble. Daniel Sturridge was spared from the first of England’s friendlies against Chile because of the nagging dead leg problem. He then played for the whole 90 minutes with Germany but obviously was not at his best. Luis Suárez seized the international commitments to work on his frequent flyer miles. He travelled all the way to Jordan and then returned to his native Uruguay to play the second leg of the World Cup play-offs. When this last fixture ended it was almost nearly Thursday dawn. Even if he came back to Liverpool in a private jet, courtesy of club owner John Henry, to avoid delays it’s still a long stretch. Suárez technical qualities are undeniable and so is his hunger for goals but is his intensity that puts him on another level. For better and worse he’s always fired up. The energy he brings to the game is contagious and the team responds to it. Sure, someone that passionate can easily go over the top as Ivanovic knows only too well. It is possible that the fitness issues force Rodgers to a single striker, in that case the choice should fall on the Uruguayan. He’ll be tired but not injured. Another question is will Brendan Rodgers stick to his more usual 3 in the back or turn it into a 4 men defence, has he did against Fulham. That would change the entire starting XI. The stats tell us that most of the Liverpool’s creative game goes through Gerrard and Henderson. Now that he is back add Coutinho to the mix. If Everton’s men in the centre pitch can disturb them and intercept the passes then the ball won’t get to the front. And then the Toffees may have a chance.
Jose Enrique was ruled out with a long-term knee injury that might need surgery. Aspas and Coates continue their recovery.
Probable lineup: Mignolet – Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Aly Cissokho – Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva, Philippe Coutinho – Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suárez.
Liverpool has won four of the last six visits to their rival neighbours. Last season the correspondent match finished with a 2-2 equalizer. Some say this will be a clash to be win or lost in the midfield but aren’t them all? Arsenal brought to light all of the Liverpool’s frailties in that department and that was what got them the three points. Do the Toffees have what it takes to do the same?