As the international break ends for a respectable amount of time, ‘proper’ football returns and we see the first Merseyside Derby of the season take place at Goodison Park.
If you look back to just over a year, the contrast in game between now and then will be somewhat evident. Just over a year ago we had David Moyes V Kenny Dalglish, two managers that believed in aggression, percentage football and getting the result at any cost. The game this weekend will be completely opposite, both Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers share a philosophy that football should be played in the ‘right’ way, with composed possession and intricate build up play. The best way of defence, is for the other team to not have the ball.
11 games in and Everton are still showing signs of transition under Martinez’ reign. The defence is the third best in the league for goals conceded and second best at recording clean sheets. There has been a problem however with scoring goals and especially so in the last two games, with two goalless draws against Tottenham and Crystal Palace. There has been much less left-hand dominance this season, with Leighton Baines’ chances created per game standing at 1.3, compared to the whopping 3 per game last season.
The right-hand side of the Blues have taken a grip of the attack, with Mirallas joint top of the premier league assist table despite not being in his best form so far this season. Lukaku is the key man in attack, scoring just under 40% of Everton’s goals this season and being at the forefront of the better team displays produced so far.
The starting line up will be an interesting one. Apart from long term absentees Darron Gibson and Arouna Kone, every player has been reported fit for Saturday’s game. Martinez has hinted at not only giving Ross Barkley his first Merseyside Derby debut but also Barcelona loanee Gerard Deulofeu. Of course this could just be a side-screen, giving Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers something to think about.
Liverpool are living the high-life at the moment, sitting second in the league and a win against Everton taking them to the top of the table come 3 o’clock Saturday. The much documented strike force of Sturridge and Suarez has launched them into being the 3rd highest scoring team in the league. The defence isn’t too shabby either, joining Everton on the amount of goals conceded after 11 games.
That doesn’t mean however that the midfield should be underestimated. Within lies the consistent Merseyside Derby performing Steven Gerrard, the class and quality of the final third passing specialist Phillipe Coutinho, the underrated drive and ever-pressuring Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva, the midfield destroyer.
Liverpool have got one major injury issue to contend with. Jose Enrique was just getting back to fitness when a further injury has derailed those plans and will keep him out for a further two months. This leaves a dilemma for Brendan Rodgers. Does he play Aly Cissokho, who has not yet hit the heights expected of the Anfield crowds? Does he bring in Jon Flanagan, who made his first premier league start in 19 months against Arsenal two weeks ago.
Expected Liverpool line-up:
Things to watch out for
– Evertonians still have nightmares about the Wembley back-pass by Sylvain Distin that went right into the path of Luis Suarez to level the scores up. With the Blues playing out from the back more than ever and at times shakily so, those nightmares have been ramped up in the last week.
– Sturridge and Suarez in particular will look to take up the space left when Coleman and Baines are marauding forward.
– Mirallas will look to attack either Cissokho or Flanagan. Cissokho has been suspect at the back in his few Liverpool appearances and Flanagan would be playing in an unusual position as he is naturally right-footed.
– In the last season or two, Liverpool have looked shaky at dealing with physical strikers. With one of the most physical strikers taking them on this weekend, it could be a game changer.
– The midfield battle will be key. Both teams prefer to dominate possession and both teams will have a lot of players on the inside.
Overall, we will be watching a game where both managers will set out for a win from the start. Who this will benefit will be all revealed come 2.30 pm on Saturday…