30 September 2011

Liverpool at Everton 10.01.11

7:45am ET, live in the US on espn2

Last four head-to-head:
2-2 (h) 01.16.11
0-2 Everton (a) 10.17.10
1-0 Liverpool (h) 02.06.10
2-0 Liverpool (a) 11.29.09

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Wolves (h); 2-1 Brighton (a); 0-4 Spurs (a)
Everton: 0-2 City (a); 2-1 West Brom (h); 3-1 Wigan (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 3; Adam, Henderson, Skrtel 1
Everton: Baines, Drenthe, Jagielka, Osman, Vellios 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson

This was a yellow card in the last Merseyside Derby Atkinson did. Sent off Kyrgiakos for a violent, two-footed 50-50 with Fellaini too (both should have marched). Liverpool still won.

Guess at a line-up:
Kelly Carragher Skrtel Enrique
Lucas Adam
Kuyt Gerrard Downing

The first of October, and Liverpool will have already played at Arsenal, Tottenham, Stoke, and Everton. Four of the seven toughest away fixtures, with trips to both Manchester clubs and Moscow-in-London to come. The esoteric vagaries of automated scheduling, I guess.

I expect Liverpool will try to keep it tighter than we've seen in recent 4-2-2-2 matches, using a formation more like the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 deployed against Arsenal. Frenetic doesn't come close to summarizing; this match usually is war minus the shooting, and Liverpool will need to be far less open than against Tottenham, Brighton, or Wolves. Options were far more limited last season, but when Dalglish's side faced Everton in his second league game back, the team lined up 4-2-3-1 (after using 4-3-3 against Blackpool) with a five-man midfield of Lucas, Spearing; Kuyt, Meireles, Maxi.

It's tough to contemplate Gerrard staying on the bench for this fixture. Yes, he's only played 25 minutes, spread among two substitute appearances, since returning from the never-ending groin injury. Today's long interview on the official site dropped few hints. But he's still Liverpool's talisman, the club anthropomorphized. No matter his history of red cards in this fixture (twice against Everton, two of his six career reds), he often is this fixture. If Gerrard isn't ready, I'd prefer to see Henderson in a straight swap, playing ahead of the two sitting midfielders as against Arsenal, but there's also a case for Spearing and a more orthodox three-man midfield. There's also a case for Spearing instead of Adam as well – much-discussed, and that Adam needs time on the ball (something he's not likely to get) is well-established – but I just can't see Dalglish doing it.

Kuyt should also be one of the first names on the teamsheet. The ever-present right flank selection debate doesn't matter. Dirk Kuyt is the scourge of the bitter blues. He's scored five goals against Everton in his Liverpool career (tied with Newcastle and Wigan for his most against any club) – two winners and last season's equalizer. Three from the spot. Evertonians absolutely hate him. Which is why we love him. Even more than his goal-scoring exploits, his tracking back and work-rate will be crucial tomorrow. Baines, at left-back, is Everton's best player: bombing forward and delivering crosses for Cahill. Kuyt is key to plugging that pipeline.

Liverpool's back four continues to write itself due to injuries. Johnson's available, finally back in full training after a second hamstring strain this season, but chances are Dalglish sticks with the fitter right back. Agger's recuperating quicker than expected, but this fixture still comes too soon.

In the continuing absence of a decent striker, chances are Moyes will stick with his 4-6-0 formation with Cahill as the furthest forward. Playing a 4-2-2-2 against that is asking to be overrun and without the ball for long stretches, especially given Liverpool precedent when away from Anfield. Anichebe, one of Everton's few forwards, is the only injury casualty. Last week's starting XI – Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Coleman, Neville, Rodwell, Fellaini, Osman; Cahill – all seem likely to keep their place.

The usual derby clichés all apply. Form goes out the window. Fair play goes out the window. The venue, home or away, seems far less important. Last season was the first time Everton held Liverpool winless in the two meetings since 2006-07, the season of Everton's "historic" three-nil Goodison win. Which adds an unnecessary revenge aspect to this contest. Tempers will already be frayed, both sides will already have enough inspiration and motivation.

Orwell's quote again seems fitting. "Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting." The Merseyside Derby is the epitome of serious sport.

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