8:30am ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus.
Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (h) 02.06.10
2-0 Liverpool (a) 11.29.09
0-1 aet Everton (a; FA Cup) 02.04.09
1-1 (h; FA Cup) 01.25.09
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-2 Blackpool (h); 0-0 Utrecht (a); 2-2 Sunderland (h)
Everton: 2-0 Brum (a); 0-0 Fulham (a); 1-1 Brentford [3-4 on penalties] (a)
Liverpool: Gerrard 3; Kuyt, Kyrgiakos, Ngog, Torres 1
Everton: Cahill 3; Arteta, Pienaar 1
Referee: Howard Webb
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Carragher Skrtel Konchesky
Meireles Poulsen Lucas Cole
Oh, right, football. I vaguely remember that. Now we get to see if removing the ominous specter of the "custodians" helps the on-field form in the slightest. Then again, form has a tendency to go out the window in these matches.
It doesn't matter if it's only October, as of the moment, it's a relegation six-pointer. This match is indescribably crucial, even more so than usual, regardless of the date. Everton's only above Liverpool, in lofty 17th compared to Liverpool's 18th, on goal difference. Both sides need points, and quick.
On the pitch, one hand giveth while the other taketh away. Torres should be "fit" (as should Konchesky), but Kuyt's out for at least the next month. Which is actually better than the 3-4 months initially feared. Agger's also out with a calf strain incurred during the international break, but who knows if he would have started anyway given Hogdson's proclivities. However, the Dutch robot has almost always been at his best against the blue half of Merseyside, with these contests tailor-made for his talents. And with all the problems Torres has had with his adductor, I'm skeptical of how healthy he actually is, and deathly frightened of another recurrence, two weeks after going off against Blackpool. But he's still a player that can win a match in a single moment. That is, if he gets the service to do so.
Once again, I'm hoping against hope that Poulsen won't start, but past is usually good precedent in this case, which is reflected in the above guess. Still, the manager seems to be the only one satisfied with his performances this season, and it was marginally hilarious to see Danish paper Ekstra Bladet give him a zero out of six and recommend he find a different sport after Denmark's 1-3 loss to Portugal a week ago. Sunday's is no match for a player who'd move faster if he were in a wheelchair.
So, being away from Anfield, I expect it'll be more 4-4-1-1 than 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2, Meireles will probably stay on the right (instead of Maxi, or Cole moving over there) while Jovanovic remains on the bench, and Gerrard should be pushed further forward due to Kuyt's injury, which would allow Lucas a starting spot. Not much difference to the formation and tactics we've seen so far this season. Again, we should somewhat find out how much the off-field horrors affected the play. Can optimism travel to the team via osmosis?
Everton's win at St Andrews before the break, a venue where Brum had been unbeaten for more than a year and where Liverpool were lucky to draw 0-0, was the Blues first win of the season. Unlike Liverpool, who went away for the break with an awful result hanging over their heads, Everton have been waiting two weeks to try to build on their previous performance.
Fellani and Jagielka are both struggling with hamstring injuries – Fellaini's assuredly out, Jagielka's questionable – while Anichebe, Saha, Pienaar, and Rodwell are long-term casualties. Of course, if I were Fellaini, I'd deliberately injure my hamstring to stay away from Kyrgiakos after the last derby. However, with Cahill scoring goals and Arteta working his way back to fitness, Everton have their two best attacking threats available, and Liverpool's dubious (and dubiously deep) backline will have to up their game.
But, even considering the lingering fears over Liverpool's performances, at least we're able to focus on on-field matters for a change.