18 December 2016

Liverpool at Everton 12.19.16

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
4-0 Liverpool (h) 04.20.16
1-1 (a) 10.04.15
0-0 (a) 02.07.15
1-1 (h) 09.27.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Boro (a); 2-2 West Ham (h); 3-4 Bournemouth (a)
Everton: 2-1 Arsenal (h); 2-3 Watford (a); 1-1 United (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 7; Lallana 6; Coutinho, Firmino, Milner 5; Origi 4; Can 3; Lovren 2; Henderson, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Everton: Lukaku 9; Coleman 3; Barkley, Barry 2; Baines, Bolasie, Mirallas, Williams 1

Referee: Mike Dean

Mike Dean doesn't get Liverpool matches. Or Everton matches. He's from the Wirral, and hasn't referred a game for either side in more than a decade. So this is a surprising appointment.

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren Klavan Milner
Lallana Henderson Wijnaldum
Mané Origi Firmino

Oh joy. The Derby.

At least Liverpool's coming off a strong win following two disappointing results, with Liverpool's rebuilt attack finally firing and Liverpool's defense actually defending. At least Liverpool's injury issues are slowly starting to ease. I've no idea whether Matip will be available – we've seen suggestions that his ankle problem just needs to be managed and he's not assuredly out – but at least both Can and Sturridge should be fit enough for the bench.

I am struggling with two competing thoughts.

A) Liverpool haven't lost against Everton since 2010, unbeaten in the last 12 meetings.

B) Liverpool haven't won at Everton since 2011.

Liverpool's last four trips to Goodison Park have finished level. 2-2, 3-3, 0-0, and 1-1. Brendan Rodgers never won there. This will be Jürgen Klopp's first opportunity to do so. Going all the way back to Bill Shankly, in 1963, Kenny Dalglish is the only Liverpool manager to win his first Merseyside Derby at Goodison. He did it in both stints as manager. Everyone else – Rodgers, Hodgson, Benitez, Houllier, Evans, Souness, Moran, Fagan, Paisley, and Shankly – either drew or lost.

Incidentally, Everton haven't lost a league match at home yet this season. They're one of just three sides to do so, along with Tottenham and Liverpool.

Before beating Arsenal on Tuesday, a hard-fought late-earned 2-1 win, Everton had won just once in ten matches. Five losses, four draws. It was a hilarious return to earth after Koeman won five of his first six matches. But Everton remained unbeaten at home. They've held United at home, held Tottenham at home, held Manchester City away, and now beaten Arsenal. Until Tuesday, they had disappointed since the end of September, but they've remained difficult to beat – only Chelsea won by more than a single goal, romping to a 5-0 victory, a match reminiscent of Liverpool's last against Everton – especially on their own ground, and have played better against the better sides aside from that Chelsea demolition.

There will be one enforced change from Tuesday's XI: Phil Jagielka's suspended after picking up two yellows. Meanwhile, Bolasie, Besic, and Kone are still out injured. If Everton's XI is otherwise the same as against Arsenal, it'll be Stekelenburg; Coleman, Funes Mori, Williams, Baines; McCarthy, Gueye, Barkley; Valencia, Lukaku, Lennon – more a 4-3-3 than the more-usual 4-2-3-1.

Gareth Barry, fit again after hamstring issues, is an option in midfield, whether like-for-like in place of McCarthy or a more defensive set-up in place of Barkley. Either Deulofeu or Mirallas could start in place of Valencia or Lennon in attack; Deulofeu's speed seems a tempting choice if Everton plan to focus on counter-attacks.

But we all know where Everton's danger lies.

Hello, Romelu Lukaku. Nine goals so far this season, not far off half of Everton's total. Five goals in 11 appearances against Liverpool, including last season's equalizer in Brendan Rodgers' final match. A burly handful who's also too fast for everyone else's good. Four of his nine goals from headers, two of his nine from set plays. I really hope Joël Matip's fit.

Otherwise, Gueye and Barry/McCarthy can cause problems for Lallana and Wijnaldum/Can, excellent at congesting space in their own half. Seamus Coleman's ability to get forward from right-back will test both Firmino and Milner. Origi should be up for playing against Funes Mori, the man responsible for his ankle injury in last season's 4-0 romp, a tackle which rightfully saw the defender sent off. I'm curious to see how much Everton press and attack; my suspicion is they'd be better suited trying to suffocate Liverpool then counter-attacking given Lukaku's strengths, but we've seen sides succeed by going at Liverpool (hello, Bournemouth).

I'd love it if we saw a reprise of Klopp's first match against Everton. Liverpool still have the potential to be that potent, even without Coutinho, although they'll really need to up the output and improve the shot accuracy shown in the previous three matches. And Everton have been similarly demolished once this season.

But I certainly don't expect it. The personnel may be similar, but this is a different Everton side than last April, one that'd clearly and completely given up on Roberto Martinez. And Koeman's certainly caused trouble before, most notably in last season's 2-3 comeback win at Southampton.

I expect this'll be similar to previous Goodison derbies. I expect this will be brutal: contentious and closely-fought. Probably ugly. Maybe vicious, given this fixture's propensity for red cards.

This Liverpool side can be resilient and can win close, ugly matches away from home: as at Chelsea, as at Swansea, as at Sunderland. I'm all in favor of Liverpool winning ugly. Just as long as Liverpool win.

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