27 October 2012

Liverpool at Everton 10.28.12

9:30am ET, live in the US on espn2

FYI: British Summer Time ends tonight, which is why the match is at 9:30am ET rather than 8:30am. Obviously, they do it wrong and Summer Time should last for as long as possible. We'll catch up with them when our clocks fall back next weekend.

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (n; FA Cup) 04.14.12
3-0 Liverpool (h) 03.13.12
2-0 Liverpool (a) 10.01.11
2-2 (h) 01.16.11

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Anzhi (h); 1-0 Reading (h); 0-0 Stoke (h)
Everton: 1-1 QPR (a); 2-2 Wigan (a); 3-1 Southampton (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 5; Gerrard, Şahin, Skrtel, Sterling 1
Everton: Jelavic 4; Fellaini 3; Anichebe, Baines 2; Mirallas, Osman, Pienaar 1

[Nota Bene: The dubious goals panel have now classified Gerrard's strike against Norwich as a Leon Barnett own goal. I have precedent for ignoring the dubious goals panel when it suits me – specifically Carragher's "goal" against Middlesbrough in 2008-09 – but I think I'll stick with the PL ruling in this case, even if I thoroughly disagree with it.]

Referee: Andre Marriner

Guess at a line-up:
Wisdom Skrtel Agger Johnson
Gerrard Allen
Suso Suarez Sterling

Joy. The Derby. These matches are always good for the heart and soul and never 90 minutes of living death, now somehow made worse by Everton currently six points and eight places ahead of Liverpool.

As for Liverpool's lineup: Şahin or Shelvey, Reina or Jones. Otherwise, as in the last three league matches, the XI pretty much writes itself.

I'm tempted to suggest Liverpool stick with the same outfield 10 that started against Norwich, Stoke, and Reading, but Jonjo Shelvey starting as most-advanced midfielder seems more likely that Nuri Şahin. Despite Rodgers' changes to the structure and philosophy, the "more English = more better" mantra remains pervasive in matches like these. Shelvey's aggressiveness and all-action style could be useful qualities in tomorrow's fixture, even if it's skating on paper-thin ice Similarly, I doubt Shelvey would be sent out for the main round of interviews going into the match (see here and here, among others, although both are basically the same article) if he weren't involved tomorrow. In addition, Şahin started both matches in the last week, including all 90 minutes against Anzhi, while still coming to terms with regular matches after spending so much of last season injured.

However, even though it's the same midfield so throughly dismembered by Arsenal, I'd rather see Şahin, Allen, and Gerrard, tweaked by having the captain as the most-attacking midfielder, even though we haven't seen that since Liverpool lost to the Gunners. Which, incidentally, came after the last time both Suarez and Gerrard played 90 minutes in the Europa League. Şahin did surprisingly well as the controller against Anzhi, and you want Gerrard as close to goal as possible in this fixture,. both for positive and negative reasons. Simply put, I don't know if I trust him to stay disciplined in this fixture, which he'll has to has to has to be when sitting deeper in partnership with Allen. And which is realize is both heresy and blasphemy, and that I should be burnt at the stake post haste. So be it. Guilty as charged.

Liverpool's keeper solely depends on Reina's fitness; if he's healthy enough, he'll play, even though the defense has been excellent with the impeccably-coiffed Aussie between the posts in the last two matches. I'd suggest Jones should be undroppable after keeping consecutive clean sheets, but it is Pepe Reina. Otherwise, you know the drill. A back four of Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, and Wisdom; a front three of Sterling, Suarez, and Suso. The only slight possibility is Johnson shifting back over the right with Enrique finally fit and Downing's second-half performance against Anzhi, but that's a very, very slight possibility, even though Liverpool might be better served with Johnson on the right, helping to pin Baines back. But Wisdom did incredibly well against Anzhi, improving in each of the successive matches he's started, while both Downing and Enrique have disappointed at times, and are prone to the kind of lapses that can kill a side, especially in this fixture. At the same time, I've seen nothing to suggest Johnson's injured after being taken off at halftime in the Europa League.

Through eight matches, Everton remain unbeaten in its three home fixtures, beating United and Southampton and drawing with Newcastle. The Toffees have lost just once, 0-2 at West Brom, eight weeks ago, with just Chelsea, United, and City ahead of them in the table. Which is a frightening prospect given Everton's usual turtle slow start under Moyes, waiting until the New Year to make its trademark climb up the table.

The home side will be without Steven Pienaar due to a one-match suspension, while Darron Gibson is out through injury, but should have both Fellaini and Hibbert back to fitness. I strongly encourage the latter being used, a prospect which should leave Sterling drooling with anticipation. If either are unable to play, I suspect Heitinga will come into the lineup, either joining Neville as a holding midfielder (if Fellaini's out) or shifting Neville to right back (if Hibbert's out).

Moyes will almost certainly play 4-4-1-1/4-5-1, his preferred formation, especially against Liverpool, where he almost always names a conservative lineup no matter Liverpool or Everton's form. Howard in goal; Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, and Baines in defense; Coleman, Osman, Fellaini, Neville, and Mirallas in midfield; and Jelavic up front. Pienaar will be a big miss, having started every league match so far, so I'm somewhat uncertain how Moyes will replace him. Mirallas – usually playing on the right or as the support striker – seems the most likely, but both Coleman and Osman could also feature on that flank; both are more defensive options.

Everton's points total and league position, coupled with Liverpool's, make this match even more important than usual. Which is a frightening prospect. The oft-used buzzwords are all in play. Liverpool need to be proactive, but not too proactive, away from home and frequently susceptible to counter-attacks. Liverpool need to be aggressive but not too aggressive, given the lengthy history of red cards in this fixture and Everton's threat from set plays. Liverpool need to get its fullbacks involved, overlapping with Sterling on Liverpool's left and pinning Baines back on its right, but also need to protect against Baines doing the same to Liverpool.

Most importantly, Liverpool need to continue developing its game – Rodgers' patient, controlling style of football, even if it's the antithesis of how these contests usually play out – and continue to reap the incremental rewards that we've seen earned in the last four fixtures.

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