By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome city rivals Everton to Anfield, hoping to maintain their unbeaten run in the league and keep up with leaders Manchester City.
Everton, who sit sixth in the table 11 points behind the Reds, had a slow start to the season under new manager Marco Silva, winning only once in their opening six games. Since then however, with summer signings Gomes and Yerry Mina being eased into the first 11. The Toffees have been very impressive winning five out of seven to put them into contention for Europe.
Liverpool were woeful midweek, losing 2-1 to PSG. Our only real chance came from the penalty spot and without Alisson, PSG could have won by three or four.
The midfield trio of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum left many fans questioning Klopp’s starting line-up and the decision to leave Naby Keita and Fabinho who faced the Paris based club multiple times while he played for Monaco.
Liverpool’s domestic form and their European form are on two different ends of the spectrum. Last week proves my point, against Watford we were defensively sound, controlled the game well and allowed Watford no clear chances on goal.
We scored three goals without reply and not once did it look like we were going to concede. Midweek we were the polar opposite we failed to control the game, looked like we were going to concede every opposition attack, not once did we look like scoring.
In the Premier League the reds look imperious, beating all the teams they have faced outside the top five. The defence have gone strength to strength only conceding once against Man City, Spurs and Arsenal.
They’ve scored 26 and have only conceded five, which is on course to equal the record. No Liverpool team have gained as much points at this stage than in any league season.
In Europe the Reds’ look fragile and one-dimensional, they have lost all their away fixtures. They have only registered five shots on target away from home and have only scored once. The front three have only scored five in the group stage (four came in one match) as opposed to 10 at the same stage last season. The midfield, no matter who plays seems to get overrun and don’t create enough chances.
Everton have won five of their past seven Premier League games, gaining a point against Chelsea, while being on the side of an undeserved loss at Old Trafford. Last time out they defeated Cardiff by a single goal after dominating the whole match and struggled to break down a resolute defence.
Against the top five sides, Everton has impressed. They earned a well-deserved point at Stamford Bridge, a game in which Everton pressed Chelsea high up the pitch. They did not give time to Jorginho and Kovacic, both of whom control games for Chelsea. By completing this it meant they were rushed into passes and often did not find their team-mates forward runs.
In losses against Arsenal and United, Marco Silva and his team were on the wrong side of the result both times, Arsenal’s luck continued as Everton missed a host of chances which should gave them a very comfortable half time lead.
Against United it took a penalty from Paul Pogba to give United an undeserved lead. Everton should have left Old Trafford with a point bur poor finishing saw them fail to do so.
Jurgen Klopp is expected to have a fully fit squad to choose from for the Merseyside Derby. Captain Jordan Henderson is suspended and, with Milner and Wijnaldum leaving much to be desired, Sunday could be the first time we could both see summer signings Fabinho and Keita start together. While it may be risky, nothing can be worse than the midfield performance during the week.
Naby Keita brought a whole different dimension to midfield. Minutes after coming on he completed a one-two, the first time I’ve seen the likes of this season.
He pulled players away and showed excellent ball control in tight spaces. Though there isn’t much point when your midfield partners fail to make us of the space created.
Joe Gomez should return to the centre of defence with Trent Alex-Arnold moving in to right back. Alisson and Robertson, two of four players to walk away with Paris with their head held high, will complete the defence along with Virgil van Dijk.
Firmino and Salah should remain in the starting line-up, despite being very ineffective against PSG. A lack of squad depth in the attacking positions means the trio will likely start most games in the season, something which needs to change as soon as possible in my opinion.
Liverpool have been linked with many attacking players in the weeks coming to the January transfer window, though most deals for these linked players will be likely completed in the summer.
Marco Silva also has a fully fit squad for the game and is likely to pick the same starting XI that started against Cardiff. England No. 1 Jordan Pickford will keep guard of goal.
Pickford was a standout performer at the World cup producing many spectacular saves including a fine stop against Colombia.
The quartet of Coleman, Keane, Mina and Digne will try to keep our attack quiet. The Reds’ have failed to score in only four times since the beginning of the year, so it will be a tough task especially when we have scored three goals or more in four of the last five Merseyside Derbies at Anfield.
Idrissa Gueye and Andre Gomes form an excellent, well rounded midfield duo, one completes the dirty work while the other sprays passes throughout the pitch.
The four attacking players of Bernard, Sigurdsson, Walcott and Richarlison form Everton’s own “Fab four” and have been very impressive this season and have 14 goals between them this season, four less than Liverpool fab four.
Midfield Dominance – Liverpool’s midfield has been poor this season, only when the duo of Fabinho and Wijnaldum start in a 4-2-3-1 does it look Liverpool have supremacy in midfield with both players complementing each other’s strengths. Both have the strength, pace and stamina to form an extremely successful duo.
On Sunday they come up against two very good midfielders in Gomes and Gueye. The two have different styles to each. Quite similar to how Alonso and Mascherano played, not at the same level of quality but in the same style. One winning the ball back (Gueye) and the other controlling the game (Gomes).
Gomes showed fragilities at Barcelona following his big money move from Valencia and was deemed a fop by the fans. Since his move to Merseyside he has impressed me very much, being the sides stand out performer alongside Sigurdsson and Richarlison.
Both Gomes and Gueye are quite strong on the ball, Fabinho and Wijnaldum would usually be one of the strongest midfield duo’s in the League, but on Sunday they will be well matched. It will be quite a tough match to take hold of, but I think we will have the edge which hopefully will earn us three points.
Danger man: Richarlison
Many fans and pundits were questioning Everton’s logic when they splashed 50m pounds to sign Richarlison from Watford, despite the fact that he hadn’t contributed directly to a goal for nearly six months.
Since he moved to Everton to join his old manager Marco Silva he has recaptured his form which he showed 12 months ago and has scored six goals. Having started on the left wing at the start of the season he has recently been deployed as a striker, almost emulating Roberto Firmino’s role leading the high press alongside Walcott, Sigurdsson and fellow Brazilian Bernard.
Being from Brazil, Richarlison like many Brazilians is naturally gifted with the ball at his feet, his dribbling paired with his explosive pace, means he will be a very tough striker to keep at bay. He showed his eye for a goal many times this season including two excellently taken goals in the season opener vs Wolves.
Both Virgil van Dijk and Gomez have dealt with all strikers they have faced in the league so far, but none are like Richarlison. Dealing with a player who is very technically gifted, can be most defenders in a spring and is not afraid to shy away from a physical battle.
Our best bet to deal with the tricky Brazilian is to starve him of the ball and frustrate him and hope is short temper flares up which could lead to him being sent off.
Last five results
Premier League 19/12/2016 Everton 0-1 Liverpool
Premier League 01/04/2017 Liverpool 3-1 Everton
Premier League 10/12/2017 Liverpool 1-1 Everton
F.A. Cup 05/01/2018 Liverpool 2-1 Everton
Premier League 07/04/2018 Everton 0-0 Liverpool
Regardless of form, it always seems to go out the window for Derby’s. Last season Everton earned a point against high-flying Liverpool at Anfield, while the return fixture also saw both teams earn a point due to Jurgen Klopp prioritising the Champions League.
Past derby’s Anfield have been quite one sided and quite embarrassing for Everton fans. Sunday, however, will be different. Marco Silva has built a very capable side which on theory should challenge for a spot in the Europa League.
Liverpool did not perform well midweek and Jurgen Klopp will expect his team to perform to a much higher standard. With Jordan Henderson out, either one of Naby Keita or Xherdan Shaqiri must start, the latter being most likely. We struggle without a runner from midfield, one that pulls players out of position allowing others to thrive.
On Sunday, I think it will be too close to call, Everton are in excellent form, while Liverpool’s form has slightly regressed. If the Reds’ can perform at 80% then we should win and quite comfortably, but I just don’t see it happening. Firmino and Salah are out of sorts even with the Egyptians recent goal scoring streak.
Ultimately, I think the game will end in a draw with both teams scoring two apiece.
Liverpool 2 (Manex2) – Everton 2 (Richarlison, Mina)