It’s been a long time since both Liverpool and Everton felt as though they were each in the ascendency heading into a Merseyside derby. But that’s the feeling that’s engulfed the region on the brink of Saturday’s clash at Anfield.
For the hosts, although dreams of a title challenge during October and November were dashed by January, there are clear signs of progress under the effervescent Jurgen Klopp. The team are vibrant, hard-working and tremendously attuned to the will of their manager. A top-four finish would be the cap on that progress.
Everton aren’t quite at that stage yet, although they too are making assertive steps forward. After an uneven beginning, an identity is starting to come together under Ronald Koeman and in Romelu Lukaku, the Toffees are blessed with the finest finisher in English football’s top flight.
The visitors should be confident heading into this one. After losing to Liverpool in December, Everton trailed the Reds by a whopping 14 points; they can chop that down to just three with a win across Stanley Park.
Yet Anfield has never really felt close to home for those of a blue persuasion, with the Reds dominating this fixture down the years. Indeed, a staggering 18 years have passed since Everton celebrated victory at their former stadium; Liverpool have rose to the challenge, the Blues have recoiled at the sight of the Kop.
The Reds always seem to find a way, something that was perfectly epitomized by Sadio Mane’s 94th-minute winner in the reverse fixture. Perhaps Koeman’s biggest challenge in his time at Everton will be altering that perception.
Where and when to watch the Liverpool-Everton game on US TV and streaming
Date: Saturday, April 1, 2017
Time: 7:30 a.m. (ET), 4:30 a.m. (PT), 12:30 p.m. (BST)
US TV: NBCSN and Universo
US Streaming: NBC Sports App and fuboTV (free trial)
Klopp’s side are difficult to assess ahead of this one, as so much has gone on for the Reds during the international break.
Adam Lallana’s omission is an enormous blow, as is the confirmation that Jordan Henderson will not feature in the fixture. Additionally, the manager will need to make judgements on the fitness of Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino after they were jetted back from international duty with Brazil.
It means the manager has some rejigging to do in terms of personnel and potentially formation too. It’s not ideal in the buildup to such a crucial game, although Klopp’s focus on the collective means his enthusiasm won’t be dampened.
Indeed, in the big games this season the German coach has managed to get his team up for the occasion. The Reds have yet to be beaten by the rest of the division’s top seven, with the frantic, flee-flowing nature of those matches suiting his mantras perfectly.
Whether they can play that way without Lallana at the hub of the team remains to be seen, especially up against what promises to be a combative Everton midfield. But the attacking trio of Sadio Mane, Firmino and Coutinho can unsettle their rivals’ defense, which is set to contain a fair share of aging legs.
Regardless of who takes to the field, those in red will be emboldened by the backing of their supporters. Anfield is always a cauldron of hostility for these occasions.
There have been many derby matches during Everton’s 18-year barren spell at Anfield that the visitors have approached with confidence. Yet it’s difficult to find a single decent performances from Everton in that time, never mind a match they should have won away from home.
But have they ever gone into a recent derby in such a strong position? No team has taken more points in the Premier League since Liverpool beat Everton in December, after all, with Koeman stamping his authority on this side in terms of style and fitness.
Leading the line, they have the top goalscorer in the division too. Lukaku may have rejected a contract at the club and, subsequently, may be on his way out in the summer. But he’s a goal machine; netting 21 times in the Premier League a fortnight before Easter Sunday is some achievement.
Koeman himself can make a big difference too. David Moyes and Roberto Martinez left much to be desired in their approach to derby matches in the past. The legendary Dutchman, by contrast, is a proven winner as a player and coach. Therefore, it’s unlikely he’ll be overawed by his first experience of a Merseyside derby at Anfield.
Granted, Koeman didn’t get things completely correct in the first meeting at Goodison. But as results show, this version of Everton is far removed from that version of Everton. Liverpool will be up against a fitter, more versatile and more cohesive team this time around.
Factor in the recent announcement that the Toffees have made significant progress towards an iconic stadium on the Liverpool waterfront, there’s cautious optimism bristling among plenty of Evertonians ahead of Saturday’s encounter. What could possibly go wrong?
Key Battle – Georginio Wijnaldum vs. Idrissa Gueye
With no Lallana and no Henderson, Wijnaldum will have huge job to do for Liverpool in the middle of the park. But he’s shown so far this season he’s capable.
In the Reds’ last match against Manchester City he excelled. The Dutchman is a proper all-rounder, showcasing energy, quality in possession and so much power in his running in the middle third. At home, in particular, he’s chipped in with some very important goals too.
In Gueye, the Liverpool man will be up against an unrelenting opponent. The Senegalese has been a revelation since joining the Toffees in the summer, winning tackles, nicking possession back and carrying the ball forward for his team. Everton have found a one-man wrecking ball.
The Senegalese’s task will also be huge. Not only will he need to be vigilant to Wijnaldum’s intelligent runs from deep, especially with doubts over the fitness of Morgan Schneiderlin, but a centre-back pairing of Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka will require a lot of protection.
200+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, World Cup, Euro 2024 & more
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $9.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
- Features Bundesliga, LaLiga, Championship, & more
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season