13 April 2012

Liverpool v Everton 04.14.12

7:30am ET, live in the US on FSC

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 2-1 Stoke (h); 6-1 Brighton (h); 2-1 United (h); 5-1 Oldham (h)
Everton: 2-0 Sunderland (a); 1-1 Sunderland (h); 2-0 Blackpool (h); 2-1 Fulham (h); 2-0 Tamworth (h)

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (h) 03.13.12
2-0 Liverpool (a) 10.01.11
2-2 (h) 01.16.11
0-2 Everton (a) 10.17.10

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-2 Blackburn (a); 1-1 Villa (a); 0-2 Newcastle (a)
Everton: 4-0 Sunderland (h); 2-2 Norwich (a); 2-0 West Brom (h)

Goalscorers (all competitions):
Liverpool: Suarez 13; Bellamy 9; Gerrard 8; Carroll 7; Maxi 6; Kuyt 5; Skrtel 4; Adam, Downing 2; Agger, Coates, Henderson, Johnson, Kelly, Shelvey 1
Everton: Anichebe 6; Baines, Jelavic 5; Drenthe, Osman 4; Fellaini, Stracqualursi, Vellios 3; Cahill, Jagielka, Pienaar, Rodwell 2; Gibson, Gueye, Heitinga, Howard, Neville 1

Referee: Howard Webb

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Kuyt Gerrard Spearing Downing
Suarez Carroll

So, is it safe to stop Comolli-Cruyff Watch for a day or two?

Because of everything that's come before over the last few months, especially in league fixtures, this is now a season-defining match. It probably would be anyway; it's not often that both Merseyside clubs meet at Wembley for a cup final birth. But Liverpool's campaign has been focused on the cups for a some time now. Which makes it somewhat fitting that the road to the FA Cup is blocked by Liverpool's oldest, nearest, and dearest rivals.

As usual, the biggest guess comes in Liverpool's formation. Will Dalglish line up a 4-4-2, matching Everton's likely set-up, or a 4-2-3-1 with Suarez up front? And as usual, it all depends on Carroll. It'd be strange to see him dropped after Tuesday's immense late winner, more important for the resultant confidence boost than the result, but Dalglish has dropped others after better performances, and Carroll could definitely be fatigued after an hour-plus as a lone striker with the side down to 10 men.

Liverpool have played 4-4-2 with Carroll starting, and effectively at that, in both wins over Everton this season. The above formation is incredibly similar to the team which won convincingly when these sides last met. The only differences in the guessed XI and the one which won on March 13 is Johnson back at right-back and Kuyt in place of Henderson – because it's a big game, against Everton, and it's Dirk Kuyt. The Scourge of the Blues. Maxi missing out after Tuesday's performance seems slightly unfair, but he was clearly tiring by the hour mark and rarely has the legs for consecutive starts.

That Johnson and Agger came out of Tuesday's match unscathed couldn't have come at a better time. Both were handled excellently, prioritizing participation in tomorrow's match: Agger made important sub appearances in Liverpool's last two fixtures, Johnson started 53 good minutes (on the left, no less) against Blackburn. Liverpool's defense has massively missed both, especially the Dane, and Brad Jones will need all the help he can get.

It will be a vastly different Everton side to the one Liverpool beat at Anfield last month. Then as now, Moyes has focused on the FA Cup, understandably so. Pienaar is cup-tied and Rodwell is injured, but Gibson, Heitinga, Neville, Drenthe, Cahill, Osman, and Jelavic – the latter six on the bench for the Anfield meeting – should all start tomorrow.

Of course, Everton rested many of those players for their last league match against Sunderland and won 4-0, with all four goals coming in the second half. The Blues are unbeaten in five, and have lost just twice since January 11 – at Liverpool and Arsenal. Accordingly, given Liverpool's near-mirror image slide over the same time frame, Everton are now 7th in the league, a point ahead of their crosstown rivals.

As much as Everton would like to present otherwise, reveling in the underdog role against Big Bad Liverpool, they have to be the favorites tomorrow. Just look at the clubs' records over the past few months. Then look at the table. That Liverpool won the last two derbies means less than we'd hope: one, because each Derby is its own small self-contained war, and two, because of circumstances in each meeting – Rodwell's harsh red in the first, Everton's weakened XI in the second.

But Liverpool has reveled in the underdog role just as often this season, playing their best football when less-fancied and proactive football is less required. The Liverpool which has lined up in the cups has often been completely different to Liverpool in the league – not in tactics or personnel, but in form and belief – especially since fourth place became a lost cause in late February. And while Liverpool's last two results aren't especially impressive at face value – a home draw and late away win against relegation contenders! – both were important because of the fight needed to earn each result.

For once (well, twice, actually), Liverpool didn't accept unlucky fate, and worked diligently to turn bad fortune around. That type of reaction will be vital against a diligent, fighting opponent such as Everton in such a massively important, season-defining cup tie.

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