With both Liverpool and Everton desperate for a win, there is an extra importance to this forthcoming tie. The nervous fans of either camp need a sign that their season is not lost- what better way to show this than to beat your rivals.
Liverpool and Everton are currently sat in 11th and 14th in the table respectively, so both sides come into this crunch match with a similar story – one of elation from last season’s adventures, and despair this time around.
Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool – only five games into the campaign – have already lost three matches. It took until December of last year for Liverpool to register the same number of losses in the 2013/2014 season.
Roberto Martinez’s Everton have already conceded 13 goals in their first five games of the Premier League season.
It is clear something is off with both teams. Defending is the main factor in Everton’s downfall currently, and with two draws in their last five games- their inability to see games out is also a cause for concern for Martinez.
Liverpool on the other hand, whilst looking shaky at the back, will be more concerned by their performance in midfield and attack. Steven Gerrard’s wavering form is contributing to the team’s lack of control in midfield and the team as a whole do not look like they can reach anywhere near last season’s 100-odd goal tally. Who knew that losing one of the best strikers in the world would have such an effect eh?
Key players from both teams will miss this tie due to injury so the job of predicting the starting XI’s is made easier. Steven Pienaar and Seamus Coleman both face late fitness tests, but it is likely neither of them will start the match. Ross Barkley remains unavailable due to a knee ligament injury.
It’s safe to say that Martinez trusts Steven Naismith in the big games, which is why I think he’ll start him, perhaps in a free role behind Romelu Lukaku. Naismith is certainly one to watch out for. A hard working and versatile player, his class is often overlooked… His performance could be one of the deciding factors in the result.
Aiden McGeady and Kevin Mirallas will likely come back into the side, having featured frequently during the first few games of the campaign. Samuel Eto’o will likely come off the bench to play a part.
Whilst Liverpool’s Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling bizarrely played 120 minutes of Capital One Cup football in midweek, I cannot see past them starting either side of Mario Balotelli. If Phillipe Coutinho is fit enough, I see him returning to the Liverpool starting XI, ahead of Lucas, to join Gerrard and Jordan Henderson in a midfield three.
As always, Sterling is a player to watch with expectancy. Since we first saw him in a Liverpool shirt, he showed pace and skill – a bums on seat sort of player. But this season, his performances have gone onto a whole new level. This could be put down to good coaching and a good pre-season, perhaps a natural maturing cycle with age, but most definitely, the loss of Suarez has given him more responsibility. He is everywhere on the pitch; playmaking, tackling and scoring. It will be interesting to see how his performance is effected after playing 120 minutes of football just days previous.
The defence pretty much picks itself – with Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan out injured, Spanish youngsters Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo will fill up the full-back positions. It seems that Rodgers favors Dejan Lovren at left centre back over Mamadou Sakho, so Lovren will probably pair up with Martin Skrtel at the heart of the defence.
Liverpool supporters remain hopeful that Daniel Sturridge’s return from injury could come this weekend, but Rodgers concedes ‘he certainly won’t be match fit’. We may see him come off the bench.
Joe Allen and Emre Can are other notable Liverpool absentees through injury.
After impressive campaigns last season, both Martinez and Rodgers just cannot seem to find a winning formula. Admittedly, player form and injuries have negatively influenced the two teams’ fortunes thus far. But what’s most striking is that, in contrast to last season, neither of these talented managers can find a way to compensate. Being a derby, the focus is on the pitch – the effort and determination of the players is critical – but this match could very much be seen as a battle off it, between Rodgers and Martinez
Anfield plays host to what is essentially a must-win game for both teams – a strange situation so early on in the season. Quite simply neither side can afford to drop even lower in the table, and whilst a win may not result in a huge positional climb, it would result in a swing of momentum. There would be a sense – for the players, and the fans – that ‘Our season starts now’.
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