The closest ‘Friendly Derby’ for years
On Tuesday the 28th of January, Liverpool and Everton will partake in what – on paper at least – is set to be one of the most tightly contested Merseyside Derbies in years. Liverpool currently sit uncomfortably in 4th, whilst Everton lay in 6th only one point behind their local rivals. With Spurs playing Man City on the following day, both of these sides will see this as a game of magnanimous proportions and that fire will only be fuelled by their ongoing claims to be the best team from Liverpool.
Liverpool to win – 1.75
Draw – 3.70
Everton to win – 4.20
(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)
The reverse fixture made for wonderful viewing to the neutral (though not to any Liverpool/Everton fans of a nervous disposition). Ending 3-3, it marked the goal-scoring return of Daniel Sturridge and the emergence of Roberto Martinez’s Everton as a free-flowing football side worthy of Liverpool’s respect.
Liverpool go into this off the back of a couple of very lacklustre performances. The goals have been flowing freely at times for The Reds this season, but so have the goals against them. Their defence has looked incredibly vulnerable and they were lucky to keep a clean sheet against Championship side Bournemouth in the FA Cup fourth round.
What I consider their strongest back 4 (Johnson, Agger, Sakho and Enrique) is currently depleted by injury, and holding midfielders (Lucas and Allen) who offer that extra bit of protection from oncoming attacks, are also on the sidelines.
Fortunately, they have a very potent attack. Suarez and Sturridge are as good as any front two in European football and Kop fans will hope their blossoming chemistry continues to flourish. Everton are 2nd in the clean sheet league, with 9 to their name so Liverpool will have to take their chances in front of goal. Winger Raheem Sterling is in a productive run of form at present; 4 goals this season and a couple of assists in the Premiership may seem relatively modest, but it’s all too easy to forget he is the tender age of 19 . Meanwhile Steven Gerrard playing in the holding role has made him look half the player we know he is, and Everton will look to exploit this with their pace in midfield so it will be vital for Liverpool’s number 8 to have his positional sense finely tuned.
Everton have a few injury problems of their own. The loss of buccaneering fullback Seamus Coleman will be a blow to their wing-play and the energetic Barkley – who has made a huge contribution to their season – also misses this one. Barcelona youth product Gerard Deulofeu can offer something a bit different, but will also be forced to sit this one out.
Fortunately for the Toffees, top scorer Romelu Lukaku remains in the fold. Lukaku is a fantastic player already and still has 5-6 years to hit his peak as a footballer. Far too often, his immense physical strength makes people overlook the fact that he is very capable of playing precise passes, as well as decent balls into the box and exquisite finishes. They looked a little complacent in their draw with West Brom last week, but certainly won’t need any extra motivation for this one.
The formidable Anfield crowd ought to give Liverpool that slight edge, but as we saw in the reverse fixture, any lead taken will be an extremely precarious one. If Everton are able to break wide and get balls into the box, then I strongly expect them to bag a couple of goals.
Liverpool’s Cissokho is seen by some as a weak link and it’s a shame for Everton that Coleman won’t have the chance to run at him to whip the ball into the box. Still, I expect them to exploit Liverpool’s left hand side and try to feed Lukaku aerially.
The home side’s goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has shown a weakness with crosses in recent week and both Skrtel and Toure (the likely starting partnership) aren’t the most convincing in the air either. Jagielka and Distin are having possibly their best seasons for the Blues, but I think that deadly combination of Suarez’s trickery and Sturridge’s pace will undo them too many times. My prediction? Liverpool to win by a solitary goal. Genuinely, I think this game depends more on how Liverpool defend than anything else. They’ve only failed to score once in the league this year (a surprise defeat to Southampton) and I expect them to really put Everton’s back-line to the sword.
Betting Instinct Tip – Liverpool to win 2-1 is 8.00 with GR88.com