09 December 2017

Liverpool v Everton 12.10.17

9:15am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-1 Liverpool (h) 04.01.17
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.19.16
4-0 Liverpool (h) 04.20.16
1-1 (a) 10.04.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 7-0 Spartak (h); 5-1 Brighton (a); 3-0 Stoke (a)
Everton: 3-0 Apollon (a); 2-0 Huddersfield (h); 4-0 West Ham (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 12; Firmino 5; Coutinho, Mané 4; Sturridge 2; Alex O-C, Can, Henderson, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Everton: Rooney 7; Niasse 5; Baines, Calvert-Lewin, Sigurðsson 2; Williams 1

Referee: Craig Pawson (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Gomez Lovren Klavan Milner
Mané Can Henderson Coutinho
Salah Firmino

This seems like a good place to start:

It is a mischievous question to Jonjoe Kenny that may require some thought.

What is preferable? Winning the Under 20 World Cup or ending an 18-year winless streak at Anfield in the Merseyside derby?

No hesitation. “Winning the derby,” he says, snappily. “Everything I have ever wanted is win a derby. To go to Anfield to win? I don’t think you would get much better.”

Liverpool haven't lost a Merseyside Derby since October 2010 – since Roy Hodgson! – 15 derbies before tomorrow's. Liverpool haven't lost a derby at Anfield since September 1999. Jürgen Klopp's won his three derbies by a combined 8-1 margin.

This is the history that Everton has to cope with. And these are the expectations that Liverpool has to cope with.

It's seemingly a good time for Liverpool to play one of its most important matches of the season, at least for the supporters. They're unbeaten in nine with seven wins and two draws. They've won their last three matches by a combined 15-1 margin, including 5-1 and 7-0 wins in the last two. Liverpool's attacking superstars – Coutinho, Salah, Firmino, and Mané – are simply taking folks to the woodshed, but Liverpool have also kept clean sheets in five of those last nine, including four of the last five at Anfield.

Moreno is the only new player ruled out – and I very much expect to see Milner instead of Robertson tomorrow – although I guess I'll mention that multiple outlets ran with a "Coutinho not pictured in training!" story yesterday. For what that's worth. I'd be surprised if he missed out, but let's not pretend I have any special insight.

I suspect the larger question is Liverpool's formation. 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 or something else? It remains wild that I'm writing that sentence after we saw 4-3-3 in literally every match for 12 months, no matter personnel or opposition.

I'm often of an "if it ain't broke..." mindset. And Liverpool certainly ain't been broke lately. But the above XI could clearly line up in 4-3-3 – as we thought would happen prior to kick-off against Spartak, and I suspect it'll be that XI whether Liverpool decide to play 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. I remain concerned about Henderson in a double-pivot, I'd be concerned about both Coutinho and Milner ostensibly on the left given that neither is left-footed.

That is also almost exactly the same XI as against Spartak on Wednesday, with Henderson, Milner, and Mignolet for Wijnaldum, Moreno, and Karius the only changes. And we've usually seen one or two more changes over the last few weeks, given Klopp's emphasis on fresh players to maximize Liverpool's style. So, maybe Oxlade-Chamberlain. Maybe Sturridge or Solanke. Maybe even Lallana, who's back in full training and available. I've been guessing wrong a lot more than guessing right lately, and given results compared to guessing right a lot more often last season, I'm okay with that.

Whichever formation, and whomever starts, the game plan remains the same. Attackers attack, early and often, from all angles. Defenders defend. Midfielders support where needed, more often slightly deeper than we saw earlier in the season.

Get at these, no matter local rivalries. Do you, do what's succeeded in recent matches against varying opponents.

Meanwhile, Everton ain't doing too badly, at least compared to doing really, really badly for the first few months of the season. They've won three consecutive, after a spell where they won just once in 12.

They've got a new manager. We've met him before. Sam Allardyce.

Multiple clubs under Allardyce have foiled multiple incarnations of Liverpool. Including in Allardyce's last two matches: a 2-2 draw with Sunderland at Anfield with Liverpool throwing away a two-goal lead in the final 10 minutes, and a 1-2 loss against Crystal Palace at Anfield despite Liverpool scoring first and scoring early.

There are players in this Everton squad who can hurt Liverpool. Calvert-Lewin on the break. Sigurðsson on set plays. Wayne Rooney loves playing against Liverpool, sometimes too much. Pickford is an excellent keeper, and there remains the worry a keeper will somehow play on turbo mode against Liverpool.

Everton have used pretty much the same XI in the last two league fixtures, the first before Allardyce was technically manager. 4-1-4-1, with Pickford; Kenny, Keane, Williams, Martina; Gueye; Lennon, Davies, Rooney, Sigurðsson; Calvert-Lewin. Everton, already eliminated from the Europa League with just one point through the first five group games, played a completely changed side in Cyprus – even Allardyce didn't bother to go – and I doubt any involved will start tomorrow, including Lookman, Klaassen, Schneiderlin, and Mirallas. McCarthy, Barkley, Funes Mori, Coleman, Bolasie, and Stekelenburg are out injured; Leighton Baines is doubtful. Both Keane and Jagielka are back after missing the last match.

We know how Allardyce will try to stop Liverpool. We know that Allardyce's alpha and omega will be stopping Liverpool, then maybe hoping for maybe a counter-attack or set play stomach punch. Defend deep, deny space, have a little kick at those dangerous Liverpool attackers. Maybe more than a little kick; it is a derby after all, where a referee might tend toward leniency. Frustrate, frustrate, frustrate.

It's worked against Liverpool before, both for Allardyce and for others. But not lately. Not when tried by Huddersfield, Maribor, Southampton, Brighton, or Stoke.

Now Liverpool have to do it again.

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