May 5th, 2013; 13:30 GMT
How many games does it take to bring down the rivalry between Everton and Liverpool? Well, you may grow a few grey strands thinking while pondering for an answer to that question. As of now, these two local clubs face off this Sunday in the 220th Merseyside Derby and it doesn’t bear a look different from the ones before. Liverpool, after earning dismal draws against West Ham, Reading and Chelsea, come into this game at the back of a convincing 0-6 away victory at Newcastle, a scoreline they last celebrated when they beat Derby County back in 2007. With five wins and three draws in their last eight, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers will be hoping to close the five-point gap against Everton with his first Merseyside Derby victory this weekend.
Everton have had diiferent luck as their neighboring rivals going into this fixture. The Toffees have not won in six away games since a 2-1 against Newcastle earlier in January. This paints a slightly disturbing picture for David Moyes and his men when you consider the fact that Everton haven’t secured victory at Anfield since 1999. However, they do have the edge over their red twin ahead of this match since they are in a very strong position for European qualification. One on hand, they are currently battling Arsenal for that fourth spot and a Champions League berth and on the other, they are looking to fend off teams like Liverpool themselves, who are coming in their way for Europa qualification.
All said and done, there is a lot at stake here for both the clubs – Liverpool need that European spot in order to build on the good work that Brendan Rodgers has done so far while David Moyes needs it for all the effort he has put in all these years in bringing Everton ahead as a formidable force in all domestic competitions.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Fabio Borini made his first Liverpool appearance last weekend against Newcastle. Considering he got onto the score sheet minutes after he came on, Rodgers will be hoping he can deliver something similar in this game as well. However, we all know that the Merseyside Derby is played out a completely different and higher level of tempo. So, it is unlikely that Borini will get into the mix of things right from the start.
With Borini’s return, only Martin Kelly and Joe Allen remain the long-term absentees for Liverpool. Raheem Sterling is reportedly returning to fitness but his inclusion for Sunday’s game remains a doubt as of now. Liverpool otherwise have no other injury worries. The Reds’ No.7, Luis Suarez, will be serving his second match ban out of 10 and will be watching the game from the stands.
Last weekend against Newcastle, few would have expected the response that Liverpool gave after enduring a difficult week with the Suarez situation. It was not just the scoreline that was good to see, it was also the way the Reds went about their business that day. Attacking right from the beginning, bringing in the attacking wide men into more active zones on the pitch and having their full-backs make surging runs, Liverpool got all of these right and deservedly drew first blood. Expect nothing different against Everton on Sunday.
Especially it being a home game, Liverpool will certainly enjoy the crowd support and look to play it to their advantage considering they have just three games left before their season draws to a close. Tactically, Rodgers is unlikely to change his approach with the starting XI that came out against Newcastle. Sturridge, Coutinho and Downing will bear the prime responsibility to create and deploy chances.
Henderson was a surprise package from the Newcastle game. His involvement up ahead on the pitch was vital and helped Liverpool open the scoring. There is very little Rodgers would do to change his role against Everton. Gerrard and Lucas, as usual will marshal the midfield since Liverpool’s attack now bears a more solid look than last season.
Expect no change in the back four. The key thing for the central pairing of Carragher and Agger will be to keep Everton’s Marouanne Fellaini at bay. The Belgian’s boisterous presence has been a nuisance for other teams to deal with, this season and it’s no different for Carragher and Agger. The best way to stop him would be to build a wall around as soon as he receives the ball so he doesn’t manifest into a supply chain or a threat to Reina’s goal. This could also mean Lucas’ timely involvement in shutting Felliani out.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Reina(GK); Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Gerrard; Downing, Henderson, Coutinho; Sturridge
David Moyes will leap over his neighbour’s fence this time without the services of Phil Neville (knee) and Tony Hibbert (match fitness). Midfielder Darron Gibson’s inclusion is subject to a late fitness test due to a thigh injury. Everton otherwise do not have any other grave injury concerns ahead of this crucial fixture.
The key players for Everton in this fixture will be their full-backs. While Leighton Baines will be tasked with making forward runs and cutting inside the Liverpool right-back to act as a support system for the strikers, it is the young Seamus Coleman who will face a possibly more difficult time with the presence of Coutinho. The youngster is coming from an impressive performance at St. James’ Park last week and will definitely be looking to exploit the inexperience of Coleman on the right.
Up ahead, the pairing of Fellaini and Anichebe will be crucial to Everton breaking the deadlock. Anichebe’s strength could mean that he will most likely be going up against Carragher in a bid to overpower the 35-year old and draw Agger towards him. The Danish center-back seems like the ideal choice to be pitted against Fellaini but the Belgian puts up as good a fight as anyone else when it comes to aerial threat and holding play. All in all, it is going to be an interesting battle in front of Reina’s goal.
Probable Starting Line-Up (4-4-2): Howard(GK); Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Mirallas, Osman, Gibson, Pienaar; Anichebe, Fellaini
- The Merseyside derby has featured more red cards than any fixture in Premier League history (20)
- Everton have won one of their last 12 Premier derbies
- Lucas Leiva has made a tackle more frequently than any other player in the top flight this season (every 14.9 minutes on average)
- Everton have won 56% of games with Johnny Heitinga playing this season, and just 10% without him
- Liverpool lead the top flight in terms of shots on target (351), and off target (264)
Player to Watch Out For
Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
The young Brazilian has had a strong impact since arriving from Inter Milan in the summer. His trickery, vision and creativity have created quite the buzz around Liverpool and rightly so, Coutinho has earned his boss’ praise after another impressive performance against Newcastle.
This being his first Merseyside Derby, the question remains – will he play in the mold of a true-blue Brazilian or will the atmosphere around Anfield for a Merseyside Derby unsettle him? We feel it is the former version of Coutinho that will be on display. Let us know you’re thoughts below.
Liverpool 2 – 2 Everton
If you know the behavior of the Merseyside Derby then you’d know that no matter where either of these clubs stand in the Premier League table, when they face each other on the field, there is a whole new level of intensity. Everton and Liverpool are vying for European qualification but in the realm of this fixture, you can expect nothing less than 90 minutes of sheer entertainment. Just like how it happened back in October, we are predicting a pulsating draw at Anfield this Sunday.
Blast from the Past