31 March 2017

Liverpool v Everton 04.01.17

7:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.19.16
4-0 Liverpool (h) 04.20.16
1-1 (a) 10.04.15
0-0 (a) 02.07.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 City (a); 2-1 Burnley (a); 3-1 Arsenal (h)
Everton: 4-0 Hull (h); 3-0 West Brom (h); 2-3 Tottenham (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 12; Firmino 9; Lallana, Milner 7; Coutinho 6; Wijnaldum 5; Can, Origi 4; Lovren, Sturridge 2; Henderson, Matip 1
Everton: Lukaku 21; Barkley, Coleman, Mirallas 4; Valencia 3; Baines, Barry 2; Bolasie, Calvert-Lewin, Davies, Gueye, Lookman, McCarthy, Schneiderlin, Williams 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Klavan Milner
Wijnaldum Can Coutinho
Mané Firmino Origi

In case you hadn't noticed, the Merseyside Derby is taking place on April Fool's Day. This seems extremely fitting.

Less amusing is the after-effects of the international break. Lallana's out for the next month or so with a thigh injury, joining Henderson – who suffered a setback in his recovery – and Sturridge – who's only just started his own solo recovery training – on the sidelines. Both Firmino and Coutinho are almost certain to start, but it's safe to assume neither will be 100% after only returning to Liverpool on Wednesday night.

Lallana's absence leaves Liverpool something of a conundrum in midfield. There seems two options: either Coutinho drops deeper, with Origi the most likely to come in on the left, or Lucas plays as the deepest midfielder with Can moving forward. Neither option's ideal. Neither's played in that position very often, at least as a starter. Either choice would leave Liverpool's already threadbare bench even more so, with Liverpool less capable elf making mid-game changes if need be.

I will remind that Liverpool's front three was Mané, Firmino, and Origi when these sides last met, thanks to Coutinho's absence. And Liverpool only managed eight shots before the 90th minute despite 67% possession, needing Sturridge to come off the bench for added impetus and ultimately the shot which led to Mané's hysterical winner.

Maybe Lovren also returns in place of Klavan – he's has a lot of time on the training pitch to recover and did play quite well in the last meeting – but Liverpool's defense is often a case of 'if it ain't broke don't fix it." Until it inevitably breaks again.

Everton didn't make it through the internationals unscathed either, with a horrific injury to Seamus Coleman. James McCarthy also aggravated a hamstring problem while with Ireland and Schneiderlin hasn't recovered since going off against Hull, joining long-term casualties Bolasie, Funes Mori, and Besic.

Injuries aside, it's still seemingly not the best time to play Everton. The wrong half of the city has lost just once in their last nine matches. But that statistic's a little deceiving; Everton haven't been great away from home, with that lone loss at Tottenham, draws at Boro and Stoke, and a narrow 1-0 win at Crystal Palace their away results in 2017. It's at home where they've done damage, winning six straight league matches since losing to *checks results* oh, right, Liverpool.

Tomorrow's XI should be Robles; Holgate, Williams, Jagielka, Baines; Davies, Barry, Gueye; Barkley, Lukaku, Mirallas. Maybe it'll be Calvert-Lewin or Valencia in attack rather than Mirallas; maybe it'll be a 4-2-3-1 formation rather than 4-3-3. Everton have a reasonable amount of options and Everton's bench will probably look stronger than Liverpool's.

But we all know where the danger lies. Romelu Lukaku. Top scorer in the league with 21 goals this season, which is 41% of Everton's total tally; only Jermain Defoe's scored a higher percentage of his side's goals. Nine in his last six games, including at least one in each of the last four and four in a 6-3 win over Bournemouth. Five goals in 12 appearances against Liverpool, although with just one at Anfield, late as a substitute for West Brom four years ago. Liverpool have done excellently against him in both matches since Klopp became manager, restricted to one off-target shot over 180 minutes, first by Sakho and Lovren last season, then by Matip and Lovren this season. But past is rarely precedent.

Chances are tomorrow's meeting will look like the last. Everton trying to start fast, trying to press Liverpool into early mistakes and ideally an early concession before dropping deeper and deeper to restrict space and limit chances. It nearly worked last time, if not for Sturridge's fortunate rebound of the post and Mané first to react.

And it will look like a Merseyside Derby, the derby with the most fouls, the derby with the most red cards. A derby that's gone quite well at Anfield in recent years. This is not the time to foul up that record. Injuries and squad depth be damned. The fact that it's a derby be damned. There are just nine games left and Liverpool sit upon a precipice, a pack of five teams for three Champions League spots. Every game is a knock-down drag-out derby. This one just comes first.

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