03 October 2015

Liverpool at Everton 10.04.15

8:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (a) 02.07.15
1-1 (h) 09.27.14
4-0 Liverpool (h) 01.28.14
3-3 (a) 11.23.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Sion (h); 3-2 Villa (h); 1-1 Carlisle aet (h) [3-2 pens]
Everton: 3-2 West Brom (a); 2-1 Reading (a); 0-0 Swansea (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Benteke, Sturridge 2; Coutinho, Ings, Milner 1
Everton: Lukaku 4; Naismith 3; Barkley, Kone 2

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Sakho
Clyne Coutinho Milner Moreno
Sturridge Ings

So, are we going to get 3-2 against Aston Villa Liverpool (*waves at Daniel Sturridge*) or 1-1 against Norwich, Carlisle, and Sion Liverpool?

I'll be very surprised if it's not the same XI we saw at Villa: 3-1-4-2, Ings and Sturridge up front, Milner and Lucas returning to midfield, Sakho and Can returning to defense. Maybe it's a slight formation change, a 3-4-1-2 instead, with both Milner and Lucas behind Coutinho, as we saw against Norwich, the same formation we saw against Sion.

It's not as if Liverpool have been awful during this 1W-3D stretch. As written over and over and over and over, they've been reasonably in control in all four games, they're creating chances. Liverpool just cannot score. And when they do, they then concede against the run of play, and then they can't get the lead back. Sturridge's inclusion obviously helps this failing, playing Coutinho and Milner ahead of Lucas helps this failing, getting more players forward for both combination play with the strikers and runs into the box. Coutinho and Milner ahead of Lucas makes pressing more possible, unsettling Everton's McCarthy-Barry base, allowing for the quick transitions against an out-of-position defense so crucial to Liverpool actually getting goals. Liverpool will need the added impetus from midfield because chances are that the wingbacks will need to defend more than they've had to in this system. Which Nathaniel Clyne is not opposed to.

But whether we see "impotent Liverpool" or "almost reasonably competent Liverpool" might not be up to Liverpool. Everton are clearly a better side than the last four that Liverpool have faced. A less impressive Everton held Liverpool to draws in both meetings last season: a fairly turgid, watching-paint-dry 0-0 at Goodison, while Liverpool wasted multiple chances and conceded a late, unlikely equalizer (sound familiar?) at Anfield.

Through seven league matches, Everton have been much better this season, looking more like the 2013-14 version which competed for a Champions League place. They're unbeaten since August 23rd, a 2-0 loss to Manchester City. Since then, victories over Chelsea, West Brom, and Reading; 0-0 draws against Tottenham and Swansea; and an extra time cup win over Barnsley.

If there's any weakness, it's injuries, mainly in defense. Stones and Coleman are doubtful, while Baines, Cleverley, Besic, Pienaar, and Hibbert are out. Kevin Mirallas is also suspended. If neither Stones nor Coleman are available, it'll be another makeshift defense, similar to the one which allowed two goals at West Brom last week: a West Brom side that had scored two goals combined in the previous five matches in league and cup. But then Everton scored three, coming back from 0-2 down in the second half. Must be nice when a team's able to come back after conceding.

Lukaku scored two of those three goals and set up the other. Lukaku's four goals through seven games is joint-fourth best in the league. I'm terrified of Lukaku against Skrtel and Can, especially since the striker likes to pull towards the inside left channel, exactly where he can exploit the space between Can and Skrtel, and each's respective weaknesses. Not only is he a powerful header, just as Gestede trucked Liverpool last week, he can be brutal on the counter with the ball at his feet. The key will be cutting off supply, whether through Liverpool's pressing, whether through Lucas, whether through defense on the flanks to ensure crosses aren't coming.

Without Stones and Coleman, the XI will probably be the similar to the one which beat West Brom: Howard; Browning, Funes Mori, Jagielka, Galloway; McCarthy, Barry; Deulofeu, Barkley, Naismith; Lukaku. Maybe Kone or Lennon replaces Deulofeu, maybe Gibson plays as a makeshift right-back. Given the length of their respective injuries, I suspect Stones is more likely to return than Coleman.

Either way, it's a fairly settled and confident Everton, at home, looking for its first win over Liverpool since Roy Hodgson was Liverpool's manager. Liverpool, for once, are the underdogs. Liverpool are the out-of-form, struggling, underperforming side. Liverpool's manager is constantly rumored to be edging closer to being fired.

Liverpool need a result much, much more than their opponents, opponents who often treat this fixture as their cup final. Or else.

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